37 city workers out
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
8/15/10 at 9:25 AM
View a PDF outlining the budget cuts presented to the City Council.
Related story: Laid-off officers waiting for their chance to return.
A total of 37 city employees will be laid off in seven days as the city works to cut $6 million from the budget, Mayor Kathy Taylor said Tuesday.
"We are no longer cutting into bone; we are cutting into marrow," Taylor said.
Of those, 21 are police officers who were selected from the ranks of the force based on the "last-in, first-out policy." Ten of them are last summer's academy class.
The city has applied to retain 18 of the officers with the $3.5 million federal stimulus grant originally intended to hire new officers. Whether the officers spend any time off the force depends on how quickly the Department of Justice approves the revised plan, Taylor said.
City leaders are negotiating with the police union for cost-savings in an attempt to save the other three officers' jobs, the mayor said.
Finance officials said this is the first time in at least recent decades when Tulsa police officers' jobs have been in jeopardy.
The other 16 employees are scattered across several city departments, including municipal court, legal, parks, Working in Neighborhoods and development services, among others, Taylor said. Six to eight of them may be offered vacant positions that are considered critical elsewhere within the city.
The city also is eliminating or freezing many other unfilled positions.
"This has been a gut-wrenching exercise," Taylor said. "They have not been easy decisions. We know we are impacting the lives of people with children and mortgages."
Other cuts in the Police Department include grounding its two helicopters and selling the horses and equipment for the Mounted Patrol Unit. Taylor said this will free up nine officers for patrol.
Flight insurance on the police helicopters will be canceled, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol will be contacted if its helicopter is needed for an emergency situation, she said. The city has made no plans to sell its helicopters, she said.
Both 20-member police and fire academies that were scheduled for March are canceled, Taylor said.
Due to attrition, the Police Department is expected to be down by 30 officers, and the Fire Department will be down 16 by the end of the fiscal year. As of Oct. 1, there were 813 sworn police officers.
Police Chief Ron Palmer made assurances at an afternoon press conference that public safety will not be compromised by the cuts.
Crime is down, the chief said, and the CompStat program, which targets hot spots, has made the department more directed.
"We're doing more with less at this point," he said. "But the people of Tulsa should feel safe in going about their business and in their homes. The Police Department will continue to do what we do, even in poor economic times."
All city department heads were asked to submit 2.5 percent budget-reduction plans. The Police Department's share was $2 million, as it by far has the largest operating budget in the city.
Taylor said negotiations are continuing with the police union to find savings so that the three officers beyond the 18 expected to be covered by the federal grant also can be retained.
She presented the union with proposals, including that officers not take unmarked police vehicles to homes outside the city and a way to better manage officers' compensatory time. Asking officers to give five days notice, rather than just 24 hours, before taking comp time would save the three officers' positions, Taylor said.
But the union rejected those ideas. Union leadership has in turn submitted an alternative proposal that her administration has not yet studied.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 93 President Phil Evans said the union wants to do what it can to protect jobs, but he also said it is important to protect the integrity of the union's negotiated contract with the city.
During a special City Council meeting Tuesday to hear the mayor's budget recommendations, Councilor Bill Christiansen urged the police union to do whatever it can to help the city.
Christiansen said all police take-home vehicles should be limited to inside the city, a change that would save about $1.1 million per year.
"It's time for the FOP to stand up and do this," he said. "I as a councilor am asking them to do that. They really need to think about the citizens of Tulsa. These are deep cuts and extraordinary times."
No firefighters are included in the layoffs because of a reorganization that has eliminated some Fire Department management posts through attrition.
The city is also selling about 220 underutilized vehicles from the city fleet, shutting off some lights on city-controlled expressways, and reducing tree-trimming efforts, the hours of the animal shelter, training, office supplies and the number of cell phones, pagers and Blackberries issued to employees, Taylor said.
The amount of city funding that goes to River Parks, the Tulsa Area Emergency Management Agency, the Indian Nations Council of Governments and Tulsa Transit is also being scaled back, she said.
These reductions are prompting the layoff of one employee at TAEMA and one other at INCOG, according to documents. They are not city employees.
Tulsa Transit will not have bus service cuts, due to federal stimulus funding it has received, Taylor said.
Councilor Rick Westcott questioned whether some city-owned land could be sold to generate one-time revenue.
It will be up to councilors whether to approve the forthcoming budget amendments that include the mayor's cuts and layoffs. The budget is being reduced from $567 million to $561 million.
Taylor urged councilors to take action quickly.
No additional furlough days are being added in this latest round of cuts. All city employees are already taking eight unpaid days off this fiscal year.
Earlier cuts this fiscal year included eliminating 96 positions as the budget was taken from $578 million to $567 million due to plunging sales tax revenue. October's depressed revenue forced further action.
The city's $13 million emergency reserve has not been touched during the cuts, the mayor said. It is important to protect that in the event of a disaster such as the 2007 ice storm, she said.
Taylor defended to the press City Hall's recent move into One Technology Center and the construction of a downtown baseball park, saying the money used for those projects did not come from the city's general fund, which is used for operations.
The only Mayor's Office cut was a $28,000 savings due to the recent resignation of Chief of Staff Amy Polonchek, who is going to work with Taylor for the governor after the city elections.
Taylor said she may bring back her proposal to dip into the trash board's $11 million reserve fund to provide some basic services.
One problem the city will face is having only 1 1/2 mowing cycles budgeted through the end of the fiscal year, June 30, she said. Councilors previously rejected the idea, saying that money was collected from trash customers and is being used to subsidize trash rates now.
Brian Barber 581-8322
Mayor Kathy Taylor speaks during a special Tulsa City Council meeting Tuesday to discuss her budget cut plan. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
Police Chief Ron Palmer speaks during a Tulsa City Council special meeting Tuesday. The city has given notice of plans to lay off 21 police officers. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World