Gilbert looks at more layoffs, service cuts - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Gilbert looks at more layoffs, service cuts

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Posted: Friday, May 1, 2009 12:37 pm | Updated: 2:35 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

More employee layoffs and the elimination of many recreational and library programs will be discussed Tuesday when the Gilbert Town Council meets and members vote on $12 million in proposed budget reductions.

The cuts include layoffs of about 15 full-time employees and the elimination of all special events, youth sports and teen and special needs programs.

The approximately 1,100 town workers not let go would be required to take 12 days off without pay during the upcoming fiscal year, according to a newsletter sent to employees by Town Manager George Pettit Thursday afternoon. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Parks, recreational programs and the Southeast Regional Library are particularly affected under the proposed cuts.

The elimination of the special events and teen programs, youth sports, special needs and outdoor recreational programs would affect thousands of residents. About 2,300 residents are currently enrolled in youth sports and teen programs, assistant town manager Tami Ryall said in an e-mail. There are 437 participants in activities geared toward residents with special needs, including Special Olympics, and around 400 in outdoor programs such as golf instruction and trail rides.

Some items that have recently been the subject of intense council discussion, including town-sponsored special events and the park rangers program, would be eliminated under the town staff proposal.

If that happens, the town would save $433,290 by not contributing to the cost of events like the Gilbert Days rodeo and parade and Fourth of July fireworks.

Mayor Steve Berman said of the proposed cuts, "none of them are good ideas," but most are necessary to balance the budget.

He said he would try to preserve the park ranger program, after the council voted in March to give the town's park rangers additional enforcement ability. He said he isn't as concerned about police officers being included in the furlough program.

"We don't have the kind of concentrations of people that tend to be crime clusters," he said.

Town Councilwoman Linda Abbott said Thursday afternoon she hadn't had a chance to review all of the budget recommendations, but was concerned with the effect of the proposed furloughs. "Our primary responsibility is the health, safety and welfare of our residents and that's not something I am willing to support," she said.

Pettit said the town is looking to hold its costs steady at the Southeast Regional Library, even though the operating agreement Gilbert has with the Maricopa County Library District requires the town's share of total operating costs to rise in the upcoming fiscal year. The move would require cutting $300,000 from the library's budget next year.

According to a town staff report concerning the proposed cuts, the lowered funding would mean cutting the equivalent of nine full-time staffers, nearly all youth programming aside from limited story times and school-age programming, along with all adult programs such as computer, job assistance and ESL classes, and teen-oriented activities including the library's Teen Council.

The council voted at its most recent meeting not to spend $12,000 on summer reading programs held in Gilbert elementary school libraries, in part because the town currently funds similar programs at the Southeast library.

Town officials have projected a spending shortfall of roughly $15 million over the next five years due to continued weakness in the economy. The service reductions and layoffs will save the town about $4 million and the employee furloughs another $2.5 million.

The current fiscal year's expenditures within the general fund, which pays for most day-to-day operations outside of town utilities, is expected to come in at $117 million, $7 million below the adopted budget due to lower revenue and some cost savings. The proposed budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year is just under $111 million.

Pettit is proposing $5.5 million be taken out of Gilbert's $9 million vehicle replacement fund to balance the budget. Both the fund transfer and the employee furlough are considered one-time cost savings, with the $4 million saved by layoffs and program cuts the only lasting changes to the town's budget.

Gilbert held three budget meetings earlier this year to get residents' input on which parts of the budget have the highest priorities, with a total of about 40 showing up.

"I think once people see what these reductions are, that will start the discussion of where do we go from here," Pettit said. The recommended employee cuts came of recommendations from the various department heads, he said.

Eight occupied positions recommended for elimination include two crime prevention specialists and a teleserve officer from the police department, all civilians who assist officers. The other targeted jobs include an administrative assistant in the fire department and four support services employees. Other full and part time employees will be eliminated in the Community Services Division.

Nearly $700,000 would be cut through elimination of open positions, and $1.47 million through laying off workers currently on the payroll.

The council is scheduled to vote on the proposed changes at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Gilbert Municipal Center, 50 E. Civic Center Drive.

Gilbert officials have been holding meet-and-confer sessions with employee groups on pay and benefits for the first time this year. The United Firefighters of Mesa also represents Gilbert, and president Bryan Jeffries said employee reps were given no warning about the furloughs.

The possibility of unpaid time off, coupled with the near-elimination of overtime, could lengthen response times, he said.

"It's not that firefighters are not willing to make sacrifices, we just need time to figure out the best way," Jeffries said.

Gilbert laid off 22 employees from the development services department in January, citing the slowdown in construction activity, and about 20 more were laid off as a result of cuts made to last year's budget.

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