Greensboro budget proposal includes cuts

by Jordan Green

Interim City Manager Bob Morgan presented recommendations to the Greensboro City Council on April 14 for closing a $7.5 million budget gap. The city had already whittled down a $11.3 million gap by delaying the issuance of bonds until the fall of 2010 and delaying the opening of Gateway Gardens and Keeley Park. To further close the gap, Morgan proposed eliminating 17.2 full-time equivalency positions currently held by eight people, carving into programs for a reduction in expenses totaling $3 million and dipping into reserves for another $2.1 million.

“This budget is the tightest I’ve ever seen,” Morgan said. “Councils have gotten used to seeing places where it’s not that hard to cut. This is the eighth year in a row that we’ve kept slicing away at the budget.”

Morgan had asked all department heads to identify areas where expenses could be reduced, but the largest cost savings was $2 million, which would be realized by delaying the replacement of equipment and vehicles by one year. Citizens could see the effect of the budget cuts in a number of ways. The city manager proposed idling the library’s mobile units that currently make the rounds to daycares for a cost savings of $115,856. Field operations would cut back by $700,000, including $100,000 from the street maintenance program, a $50,000 reduction in right-ofway maintenance and $50,000 from the snow program. “I think we’re going to have one less snow this year,” Morgan said. “That’s the plan.” The transportation department would reduce spending on street lighting, traffic signal operations and signage. “We may be a little slower in responding to requests for lighting and stop signs,” Morgan said. The parks & recreation department would reduce maintenance and operations, including arts and athletics programs, by $40,500. But Morgan promised that none of the summer youth programs would be touched. The city is also considering eliminating a $100,000 fund for neighborhood small grants. That proposal ran into some resistance from District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small. “I have a problem with cutting that,” Bellamy-Small said. “If we’re reducing services, you want to empower neighborhoods to do more.” Maintenance and operation of the fire department would be reduced by $372,423. “This tightens them up pretty close,” Morgan said, “but [Deputy Chief] David [Spears] tells me they can get through a couple years. Morgan said he would like to reserve the option of instituting furloughs, in which city employees would take unpaid vacation days, as an “emergency tool” if the city’s budget situation continues to deteriorate. He also dismissed early retirement as an immediate option, explaining, “We felt like we had sufficientvacancies.” The city has already eliminated 49 positions in the currentbudget year, and a hiring freeze has been in place since last October.

‘I think we’re going to have one less snow this year. That’s the plan.— Greensboro interim City Manager Bob Morgan

Morgan’s budgetrecommendations include maintaining the vacancy freeze and withholdingmerit raises. Among the staff cuts is an assistant city managerposition that is currently vacant. The Planning Departmentwould reduce its staff by one person, but city officials said demandfor its services has waned with the flaccid economy. And a garden eventcoordinator position would be eliminated to save $21,500. Thecity staff found savings in the police department by reducing trainingand travel funds, getting rid of some pagers, eliminating the city’scontribution to the department’s annual awards banquet, and scrappingthe underwater recovery team, which cost $1,700. Parks & recreationwould recover $99,846 with the sale of Tannenbaum Park to the NationalPark Services. City Attorney Terry Wood said it is unlikelythe legal department will be able to reduce outsourcing consideringthat the city is defending itself against a discrimination lawsuitfiled by dozens of police officers. Wood responded affirmatively to arequest by District 4 Councilman Mike Barber to calculate the cost ofgoing to trial for council to consider in closed session on Tuesday. Barberalso floated the idea of reopening the White Street Landfill forhousehold waste — a gambit that was rejected by council last year. Byhandling its own solid waste Barber said the city could save $4 milliona year; Morgan said staff’s estimate is between $3 million and $4million. The interim city manager also acknowledged the politicaldifficulty of reopening the landfill, which has been staunchly opposedby Bellamy-Small, District 2 Councilwoman Goldie Wells, Mayor YvonneJohnson and at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins. “Nobody wantsto have a landfill in their neighborhood,” Morgan said. “I think whatyou could do is have a conversation with the neighborhood about what wecould do for your neighborhood to offset the landfill.” Staffinstructed to bring back information about the costs and benefits ofspecial events such as NC A&T University’s homecoming, and the costand benefits of partnerships, such as the city’s financial support ofCenter City Park, which is operated by Action Greensboro.

“I consider this to be a big policy decision you all will have to make,” Morgan said.

Greensborointerim City Manager Bob Morgan (right), who replaced Mitch Johnsonlast month, won plaudits from city council members for his budgetpresentation on April 14. Also pictured are District 3 Councilman ZackMatheny (back to camera), District 4 Councilman Mike Barber andDistrict 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small. (photo by Jordan Green)