MONROE - With the 2006-07 budget approved and a painful $1.4 million deficit dealt with, Monroe officials are seeking ways to permanently curb spending to make future budgets less difficult.
To that end, City Council has approved hiring a consultant to study the personnel situation so the city can trim its payroll. The city has 251 employees. Five employees are expected to retire during the first half of next year, but that's not enough, according to Councilman William Burkett.
"One of our biggest problems is declining revenues. Are we going to keep the manpower we have? I don't think so," he said.
A look to the future was evident in the new budget, passed Monday night. Five vacant positions - police officer, development service director, planner, maintenance worker, and receptionist - were not filled. The most high-profile - and expensive vacancy - is that of the development service director, held by Benjamin Tallerico.
Mr. Tallerico, who also serves as director of community development and planning, is leaving his job on May 1.
Patrick Lewis, the county's engineer, will assume Mr. Tallerico's development service director duties, gaining a small raise, Mr. Burkett said.
"I think that's a good fit. We had created another layer of government [in creating the development services position], so we took it away," he said.
The most controversial aspect of the new budget was council's decision to take $340,000 from the city's reserve fund, which now totals $2 million.
Councilman Linda Compora, who frequently clashes with Mayor C.D. "Al" Cappuccilli and other council members, said she is not pleased by the decision.
"It wasn't necessary to dip into the reserves," she said. "From the first budget hearing, the mayor recommended dipping into the reserves. It was his cure-all to end-all. He exhibited no leadership or vision."
Bill Sell, the city's finance director, said the reserve funds would be held for most of next year and might not all be needed. If the five positions are vacated through retirement, for instance, the money saved will reduce expenses already in the budget, Mr. Sell said.
Also eliminated is the city's curbside leaf pickup program, at a savings of $65,000 a year. The program had been installed at the urging of former Mayor John Iacoangeli, in addition to a bagging program that was already in place.
Mayor Cappuccilli has never been in favor of the leaf pickup program. Under the new program, residents will only have the option of bagging their leaves for pickup.
Mr. Burkett said an earlier survey indicated that the majority of residents preferred the bagging-only plan.
"Putting the leaves in the streets makes the streets dirty and plugs the sewers," he said.
He said volunteer groups are being recruited to help seniors and those with disabilities to bag their leaves if they are not able.
Interim City Manager John Michrina said the budget-cutting task was difficult.
"Obviously, it required hard work from everyone," he said. "Not having what you want to spend is difficult."
He said budget decisions should improve next year after the personnel study is completed sometime this summer.
"[We'll] use this year as a reorganization year," he said.
Mr. Burkett said it's likely some hard decisions related to possible layoffs will have to be made after the study is completed.
"We have to do what's best for the citizens," he said. "We'll work with the unions and do whatever we can do to downsize the best way we can. If we are overstaffed, the employees didn't cause the problem. We have to let them go out graciously."
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