The Grand Island City Council went through a painful process two years ago when it voted to eliminate some city positions. The need for the positions wasn’t questioned, but the city was in a budget squeeze and needed to take action.
A lot of the crisis two years ago resulted from the city’s population going over the 50,000 mark. Some unionized city workers received sizable pay increases because their wages were now compared to those in larger cities. Then-mayor Jeremy Jensen warned of a future budget crisis if the council didn’t take action.
Not only were some positions cut, but the council also approved an increase in the property tax rate. In addition, firefighters agreed to a two-year wage freeze.
Fast forward two years and the Grand Island City Council now is considering requests to add back some positions. It should, however, be extremely wary about increasing the city’s payroll.
City Finance Director Patrick Brown cautioned the council that while some of the positions could be afforded this year, in the future the budget will be unsustainable and the city’s cash reserves would drop below recommended levels.
Projections show that in 2023 the budget goes “downhill,” Brown said.
Mayor Roger Steele said that the budget discussions are facing some uncertainty because negotiations are underway on two union contracts. The mayor urged the council to use restraint when it comes to adding positions to the city’s budget. The council should heed what the mayor said. Steele recommended approving two of the requests that are actually reorganizations that make the departments more efficient while not adding costs.
These would be adding a deputy city clerk/media relations position while eliminating the public relations office. The second is adding three lieutenant positions to the police department while eliminating one captain and two sergeant positions.
These are good moves that will increase efficiency while saving costs.
The council should be extremely cautious about adding any of the other new position requests. Adding positions now likely would mean that in a few years the council would again be faced with the difficult decision of cutting its workforce. Cuts were made two years ago because future budgets were unsustainable. That hasn’t changed.
While the passage by voters last year of a half-cent city sales tax increase will help pay for some infrastructure projects and public safety equipment, the effect on the general fund is limited.
Restraint is the right word for what the council should show when it comes to adding new positions. If it doesn’t, it is setting the city up for another round of painful decisions in the future.
Grand Island Independent