Life can be difficult for City Manager Jim Hartmann. Take this year’s budget. Inside City Hall, employees who were furious that their cost-of-living increase had been cut from 3 percent to 2.5 percent. Outside City Hall, taxpayers were enraged that the average tax bill would be increasing from $4,035 to $4,462.
So Hartmann was presented with a challenge — how to increase salaries while cutting the bottom line?
It was a demanding task, but the city manager found a way to split the difference. On March 31, he released a memorandum that laid out a series of new options for City Council members. The components of the memo are like moving parts that City Council members can use to add or subtract from the budget, restoring the 3 percent cost-of-living increases while reducing the city’s spending increases to 5 percent.
— Delaying the planning and design of a new police headquarters. Hartmann’s proposal would save $2.8 million for the city by putting off the project.
— Reducing the schools’ budget by $1.1 million. School Board members would be responsible for deciding which parts of its proposed budget to cut.
— Reducing the health-care contingent for city employees. To accomplish this, Hartmann suggested increasing co-pay amounts. The proposal would save the city $600,000.
— Requiring city employees to pay for part of the health-care coverage. Existing employees would initially pay 3.3 percent of their health-care costs, eventually kicking in 10 percent. Hartmann estimates that the proposal would save the city $500,000.
— Postponing the “undergrounding” of utilities in the Old Town historic district. By delaying the next phase of the project, the city could save $500,000.
Council members have until April 12 to submit preliminary “add/delete items,” which give individual members the opportunity to add or subtract from the city manager’s proposed budget. After Hartmann’s proposal was presented Monday night, Vice Mayor Del Pepper said that she would take the measures into consideration when preparing her add/delete list.
“My objective is to reduce the tax rate,” she said. “We have to find a way to accomplish that while keeping a credible and sustainable budget.”