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City foresees staff cuts

$8 million budget deficit projected over next five years

July 6, 2011

Alderman Peter Donegan called a projected $8 million budget deficit over the next five years the "most startling" report he's received from City Administrator James Archambo.

Two weeks after Archambo and Finance Director John Ruggini presented the outlook and possible cost-cutting strategies, the Common Council got the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback.

Donegan said he wants Wauwatosa employees to be the "best compensated" in the area, but that likely will mean there has to be fewer of them. He challenged administrators to not only bring the council ideas for cutting costs but also for increasing productivity so the same duties can be accomplished by fewer workers.

"We have to manage our way there," he said.

Archambo said past strategies - like maintaining a system of rolling vacancies - helped get the city through a short-term budget gap, but that positions will have to be eliminated to achieve long-term savings.

"They need to be permanent and structural," the city administrator said. "We have to take it more seriously and look deeper."

Alderman Brian Ewerdt asked about the several million dollars that potentially could be saved if Fire Department staffing is reduced as outlined in a consultant's study.

A review by the new fire chief and his command staff concluded that there are some immediate restructuring opportunities that would eliminate about $200,000 in personnel costs. Cutting back much more right now would prevent the city from reaching its goal of increasing its paramedic staffing. Many of the newer employees have that training, and it's those same younger firefighters who would be the first eliminated based on seniority, Archambo said.

Since the presentation to the council, the state budget has been signed into law.

The tools that the state gave municipalities to deal with revenue reductions and a property tax freeze are not enough, Donegan said. Finding more savings will require bigger changes to compensation of employees not in the police and fire unions, he added.

The prohibition on tax levy increases beyond net new construction has really been the driving force behind the growing gap between expenses and revenues, Ruggini said.

The budget does allow the city to make some health care plan changes for all employees, including police and fire.

Modifications to the city's health insurance plan could result in nearly half the savings needed to cover the budget deficit next year, Archambo said. He expects to bring a recommendation for plan changes and higher premium contributions for non-protective union workers to the Employee Relations Committee on Tuesday.

Next step

WHAT: The Employee Relations Committee will discuss changes to health insurance plans and premiums and issues triggered by the adoption of the state budget.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

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