BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — A budget shortfall due to the coronavirus pandemic could lead to the elimination of 19 positions in the city of Maumee as well as the furlough of hourly staff.
During multiple meetings with city finance staff and council members over the past several weeks, city administrator Patrick Burtch and Maumee Mayor Richard Carr have been going over the numbers and both agree that the outlook looks grim. Essentially, tax revenue has dropped substantially, draining the city’s cash reserves and creating a deficit-spending situation, which has put the city’s budget in jeopardy.
“Income tax is the city’s biggest source of revenue,” Carr said. “Following income tax is the hotel/motel tax, Maumee Municipal Court revenue and gas tax, and in everything across the board we’re getting hammered.”
With a projected loss of revenue that could reach $2 million over the next four months, coupled with the fact that Maumee’s revenue is already down by $1.2 million compared to this time last year, the proposal to cut jobs is being floated as the most viable option to reduce significant impact on the city.
Maumee’s operating costs consist mainly of labor expenses – 80 percent – and there is no alternative to considering job cuts to reduce spending, both men say.
“This is a horrible thing that we have to discuss,” Burtch said. “Nobody relishes in this and quite frankly, this never should be seen as whether somebody believes in someone’s work performance. This is necessity by something other than work perform-ance.”
Maumee employs 161 people and every division has positions slated for elimination with 40 percent at management level. Carr believes that one third of the cuts could come from attrition/ retirement, meaning those nearing retirement will immediately move forward with it and the vacant position will not be filled.
The positions slated to be eliminated include the following:
Police Division – one lieu-tenant, three patrol officers, one clerk and the animal control officer. In addition, the FBI task force, victim services and two sergeant positions have been elimin-ated and those officers could potentially be reassigned.
Public Service Division – one commissioner, two laborers, four equipment operators and two supervisors.
Fire Division – one bureau chief and one fire inspector.
Finance Division – one tax department clerk.
General Staff – one administrative assistant.
The proposed changes are expected to save the city $1.26 million.
In addition to eliminating positions, the proposal also calls for a mandatory reduction in hours from 40 to 30 per week for all hourly employees over a three-month period. Those employees will realize a 5.8-percent annual wage decrease due to the reduced work week; however, they will not lose their health benefits or vacation time, the mayor said.
While an emergency order has been issued for the proposed cuts, which does make them final, things are not entirely set in stone. On April 24, Carr and Burtch met with union leaders requesting alternative solutions to the proposal. They plan to reconvene with those representatives next week.
“We want to work together on this,” Carr said. “If the unions are willing to come up with suggestions or compromises their members are willing to make, we will listen.”
Carr has been criticized on social media for his handling of the situation, particularly because several city workers learned about potential cuts through the media or online. Carr said that was never his intent. He wants to work with the union representatives to come up with a viable solution going forward and meet with staff to go over the proposal.
“If that got out on social media, it didn’t come from us, it came from the union representative,” Carr said.
He and Burtch say that it is unlikely that citizens would be impacted by the proposed labor reduction as services including trash pickup, police patrol and emergency response will continue as normal. The proposal is not a simple solution to a simple problem, and both acknowledge that it is being considered from a “best-case-scenario” point of reference, which is if businesses in Ohio begin reopening soon.
“These (the proposal to eliminate jobs) will not zero out the loss,” Burtch said. “We are just hoping that it will smooth us out and carry us into next year when some of these attritions take effect for a future savings.”
Failure to act immediately could potentially hurt the city’s bond rating and its ability to borrow money for future projects, he added.
Prior to this proposal, city leaders began looking at labor costs and making changes last month, beginning with managers and non-union staff. On March 23, the mayor ordered a suspension of the ordinance that provided flex time, overtime and compensatory time to non-union employees working in the following positions: commissioner of public service, chiefs of fire and police, finance director, assistant finance director, law director, city administrator, human resources commissioner, municipal prosecutor, paralegal, police lieutenants, chiefs of firefighting and fire prevention, clerk/administrative assistant, assistant tax collector and IT manager.
“Those ordinances gave all of these positions overtime and comp time, and they shouldn’t because by federal law, they are exempt staff,” Burtch said.
In addition, nine managers, including Burtch, are now required to work a minimum of 50 hours per week, he said. They include chiefs of fire and police, commissioner of public service, finance director, assistant finance director, chief building official, law director and human resources commissioner.
“Quite frankly, you are salary. That’s what is expected,” Burtch said.