Glendale city budget continues to be a concern

Glendale city officials are currently predicting a $7.7 million deficit in the coming budget year, with some big questions remaining to be answered.

Budget director Bob Elliot told the council at a special meeting Tuesday that department heads are currently working on a 5% cut for the coming year, on top of a similar reduction this year.

The city is outperforming the county as a whole in sales tax revenue, but Elliot cautioned the numbers do not include the last three months of 2008, in which merchants had very bad holiday sales throughout most of the state. Car sales in Glendale took a big hit, with some dealers down as much as 25%, according to city officials.

Property tax in Glendale remains a stable revenue source, with residential property holding its value, though some revenue could be lost through property tax assessment appeals in coming months.

The city has managed to close an $8.4 million gap for the current year with a hard freeze on new hiring, elimination of four unfilled positions and a variety of cuts, one of them banning employees from bringing personal microwaves, refrigerators and fans to the office to use up energy. “Mr. Starbird (city manager Jim Starbird) and I were guilty of that,” admitted assistant city manager Bob McFall.

Glendale officials are also looking for cuts in the city transportation fleet and a fresh look at home garaging of city cars, of which there are currently about 100.

Looking ahead to the new budget year beginning in July, Starbird said the city will reopen contract negotiations with police and fire, the two departments which represent about half the general fund budget.

Starbird reacted to complaints from some public members about high paid city workers, saying Glendale is at or below the average for comparable cities. He said since 1991, annual increases in personnel costs have been just above and sometimes below the annualized consumer price index of 2.9%.

Glendale will look at more job cuts in the coming year, though Starbird said his personal preference was to utilize furloughs and service changes instead of layoffs.

Judging from the council discussion, the question of going to a four day, 4-10 work week with closure on Fridays will be considered. Council members also indicated they want to continue the hiring freeze into the new year.

Complicating issues could include possible loss of sales tax revenue in the coming year if the economy remains weak, and any hits the city may be asked to take to assist the state in budget balancing.

The council will get a more complete look at the new budget in April, Starbird said.

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