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City looking for creative solutions to keep budget flat


March 31, 2010
BERLIN — The city may use bond money to keep the public works department from laying anyone off next year.

The city council discussed how to keep the public works department budget flat without reducing the number of positions during their budget review on Wednesday.

The city could use money from the $5 million bond the council passed last year to keep two proposed layoffs from occurring, Mayor Paul Grenier said. The city could use bond money to pay for machinery and four people to create a dedicated paving crew for the city, he said. They would spend half the year improving city roads, he said, and that would free up money in the operating budget to pay the men the rest of the year.

Not only would that keep the two positions from going away, he said, but it would keep mean the city was spending money to keep its own employees working instead of paying private contractors to do the work.

"Let's put together a plan," he said. "Let's give them the proper tools."

The city manager's proposed budget cut $156,000 from the public works department's request for $1,918,343. The city manager made the cuts to achieve the council's goal of an overall flat budget, to keep taxes from rising.

Last year's public works budget was was $1,782,742; this year's proposed budget allocates the department $1,762,271. The cuts included laying off two people.

Mayor Grenier said the city may have to use unconventional methods like this bond money reshuffle to keep taxes from going up without cutting services or laying people off. No layoffs has been one of Mayor Grenier's stated goals.

Public works director Mike Perrault said the department has been steadily declining since the early 1970s when the average number of employees was 57. The department is now at half that number, at 28, he said, and is already stretched thin. He liked the mayor's idea, he said, but he doesn't have the staff to spare four people for a paving crew. "Who am I going to put on the rest of the services?" he said.

"I don't want to hear what we can't do," Mayor Grenier said, he is looking for solutions.

The council is going to have to make hard decisions, Councilor Robert Danderson said, because up until now no easy fixes have appeared for the roughly $1.5 million in reductions the council has been looking for to keep the budget flat with last year.

"We haven't talked about cutting anything," he said. "We've talked about adding."

"We've got to wait to see what the employees come to the table with," Mayor Grenier said.

The city has been in negotiations with several of the collective bargaining units in an effort to reduce the city's contractual obligations.

Councilor Danderson said the city might have to lay people off, particularly within the school department, and then rehire them if the city can find the money.

Mayor Grenier said it's important to be patient."Let's just watch and let it play out," he said.

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