City residents and employees are responding to Mayor Higgins' call to share thoughts, ideas and priorities about ways to handle the FY2010 $6 million+ budget gap.
Below are ideas received in the Mayor's Office and some responses. It will hopefully be good news to taxpayers to see how many of these suggestions have already been implemented in this and recent budget years. If you have thoughts or ideas to add, please email them to email@example.com or call the Mayor's Office if you do not have access to email.
- Could departments vote to take an overall pay-cut in order to save jobs?
- Trash fees could be increased more easily by offering annual and three month stickers at overall higher prices.
- Could people be asked to pick up more after themselves (take out their trash, sweep/vacuum their offices, etc.)?
- Could individuals be allotted only a set amount of paper and similar supplies and be rewarded 10% of whatever they save and penalized 5% for whatever they over-use?
- Some organizations have gone to partial self-insurance as a means to save money.
- Has the idea of closing all school buildings at 5 to save heat, electricity, and custodial costs been explored?
- Have the consolidation of services been considered between school and city (or even across cities and towns in the area)?
- Is there a way to increase the money brought in by school choice?
- Also, how closely has the closing of building been looked at? I am not sure the cost savings is worth it or even accurate (I have seen a figure of $350,000).
- Could city librarians and school librarians consolidate?
- Could you instutute a week unpaid furlough across the board.
- Reduce work hours (by a small number) across the board.
- Freeze colas. Freeze hiring. Freeze overtime.
- Go to GIC health insurance
- Would bringing a City Solicitor as an in-house position and only outsource as needed save any money?
- Turn parking behind city hall (dept. parking) to meters.
- Make City Council a volunteer committee, instead of stipends.
- Pre-approval for city funded conferences or a single fund for conferences city wide
This is something that would have to be negotiated with the city's labor unions, and not something that can be decided on department by department. Mayor Higgins has asked the city's labor unions to open negotiations to discuss the possibility of a wage freeze in FY2010, and she has already frozen wages for those employees in the city who are not represented by unions. We know that if all city unions accept a wage and salary freeze, it will save the city about $345,000 (city employees only, not school side), which is a little more than 5% of the $6M+ budget gap - not enough to stave off all job cuts and losses. Update: if all city and school employees combined agreed to a wage freeze, it would save the city $1.2 million in FY2010.
Trash fees could be increased more easily by offering annual and three month stickers at overall higher prices.
All city departments which charge fees for services are looking at their fee structures. Fees for use of the city dump and transfer station go into the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund to support the operations of those services. An increase in trash fees would not go into the city's General Fund and would not impact the budget gap.
Could people be asked to pick up more after themselves (take out their trash, sweep/vacuum their offices, etc.)?
City Maintenance personnel do much more than sweeping and vaccuuming, but it is not clear that asking other employees to pick up those tasks would result in any savings. It would mean, for one thing, that the employees would lose productivity in their jobs, which could result in one less phone call to a resident, or a delay in sending out some correspondence, and that may be the best way to serve the city. Recent trends also seem to indicate that it is more efficient and economical to centralize services when possible. In other words, it makes more sense to have a small number of maintenance people taking out trash and vacuuming than to purchase additional vacuums and ask 25+ people across city departments to each take time out of their day to do the same work.
Could individuals be allotted only a set amount of paper and similar supplies and be rewarded 10% of whatever they save and penalized 5% for whatever they over-use?
Being a municipal government and working with public funds, we are not allowed to use financial incentives to reward or punish individuals, but not being wasteful of materials is definitely something that has been a focus of all departments. Mayor Higgins is working with the city's Central Services department to provide a centralized purchasing office in FY2010, so that all departments will order office supplies from one location. This will save departmental employees some time in ordering, receiving and processing payment for office supply orders in 25+ separate locations.
Northampton did this two years ago when we started 100% reimbursable (read: self-insured) in-patient co-pays for employees. This plan design (increasing co-pays) allowed us to hold rates steady for that year. We assumed the additional cost ourselves.
Has the idea of closing all school buildings at 5 to save heat, electricity, and custodial costs been explored?
All school buildings are occupied in the evenings because custodial staff is are working until 10 or 11 p.m. doing the main cleaning for the day. Because the custodial staff is there, there are no additional custodial costs for the public to use the building duirng the week. However, the building heating systems are programed so that the heat begins to coast downward after school ends. For the elementary schools' occupied times, which are heated to 68 degrees, start at 8 a.m. and shut down to the unoccupied temperature of 55 degrees at 3 p.m. with the building coasting down overnight, so being available to the public after 5 is not typically an additional cost - the buildings retain enough heat to make it comfortable in the early evening hours. For JFK, occupied times start at 7 a.m. and shut down at 4 p.m. with the exception of the pool and locker rooms which are used regularly by the recreation department. We might also heat the community room at JFK if there is a meeting, but the cost is minimal as it is on a separate zone. For NHS occupied times start at 6:30 a.m. and 95% of the building is shut down at 2:00 p.m with remaining areas such as the auditorium and gym, cafeteria and locker rooms heated on separate zones when events are scheduled. While there would be some minimal savings in limiting the public's access to the school buildings, it is already very efficiently managed to incur minimal expense with regard to heating. Electrical consumption would probably be reduced if the buildings were not used at night, but again, it would be very minimal. With such a demand for use of our buildings by the public for meetings, the savings might not justify the limitations this would place on the community's need for meeting and gym space. And it would also mean the loss of rental fees that groups not related to the schools or city government pay to rent the facilities.
Have the consolidation of services been considered between school and city (or even across cities and towns in the area)?
Certainly consolidating the business functions of the two school districts (Northampton Public Schools and Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School) should be discussed as there is similiarity of functions. We have already consolidated school transportation for the two districts as the Transportation Coordinator for Northampton Public Schools arranges the transportation for Smith Vocational School students and their transportation is part of our large bid. We also combine efforts to jointly purchase some of those items both districts need and use, such as dry goods and fresh produce for the cafeterias. Every effort to consolidate for savings is being investigated however, the bottom line is it takes a certain number of people to get the job done and consolidation, while improving efficiencies, may not always result in positions being eliminated.
The money we receive from School Choice students in the Northampton Public Schools this school year, is the money we will use next year to fund our budget. Increasing the number of school choice students in the next school year, could bring in additional revenue but not until FY2011. That being said, we can probably increase our school choice to some extent, with more aggressive advertising; however, there is a limit to how many students can be attracted from other communities. We reached our peak in FY05 with 226 students attending, and have fallen to 183 in FY2009. With potentially rising class sizes, due to possible teacher layoffs, there will be less room to absorb additional school choice students going forward. It takes 11-12 school choice students to pay the cost of salary and benefits for one teacher.
Also, how closely has the closing of building been looked at? I am not sure the cost savings is worth it or even accurate (I have seen a figure of $350,000).
Closing an elementary school has been discussed and the savings has been analyzed and continues to be revised. The Superintendent will be making a recommendation on whether or not to consider closing a school in the near future. The savings from closing an elementary school is estimated to be approximately $325,000 which is the equivalent of 6.8 teaching positions. There are budgetary advantages to closing a school and there are corresponding negatives to closing a school. All of the factors will be weighed before the Superintendent makes her recommendation.
There are only 1.5 librarians in the schools, one full-time at NHS and one part-time at JFK. The School Librarians are integral to helping the teachers deliver curriculum and need to be on-site to assist with the use and management of the libraries. The elementary schools have one aide each in the library. Unless the libraries are closed at each school level, it is essential to have a minimal amount of staff overseeing use of the libraries which house expensive computer equipment and a valuable collection of books.
This is something that would have to be negotiated with city unions, but Mayor Higgins is not inclined to do so. The problem with a furlough is that it just pushes the problem back in time, it does not solve it. Even if we had a week-long furlough in FY2010, we would have to find the money to reinstate those employees in FY2011. Moreover, we could not fairly institute a week-long furlough across departments - schools have legal requirements for the number of days at work, and we cannot have a week with no firefighting or no policing or no water treatment plant operation. It would be a pay cut for some - but not all - city employees and therefore would not be fair. The projected savings are also very small compared to the size of the budget gap.
This proposal carries some of the same fairness questions as the furlough proposal. Not all offices can be closed for even part of the day (ie, public safety, schools) and it would leave us with finding the funds next year to reinstate those hours, simply pushing the problem forward a few months.
The Mayor has already frozen COLA/wage/salary increases for all non-represented employees and has asked all leaders of labor unions to reopen negotiations to discuss this. She is already reviewing hiring on a case-by-case basis, and there are positions that are already going vacant. In some departments, overtime is sometimes necessary, but all other overtime is strictly controlled.
The Mayor and the Insurance Advisory Committee have been looking into this option. It is too late to choose the GIC for FY2010 - Northampton would have had to sign up by December 2008, but at that time the Mayor and the IAC did not have enough information about the GIC plan to make an informed decision. Joining the GIC remains an open option for FY2011.
Would bringing a City Solicitor as an in-house position and only outsource as needed save any money?
We did this analysis in FY2003 and determined that it is, in fact, a savings to contract out the legal services as opposed to bringing that function back in house. We looked at the average salary range for municipal attorneys and calculated the additional costs of clerical supports, office equipment purchases (computers and printers), associated costs of benefits and retirement. And of course, we would still need to hire specialized legal counsel as we do under the present system. The projected savings in FY2003 was $60,000 - $90,000, based on the salary range of the attorneys hired.
There are currently 7 parking spots behind City Hall reserved for staff parking, and 6 15 Minute Free spots which allow members of the public to come into City Hall buildings to pay taxes, pick up permits, and other quick errands safely and conveniently. Turning the staff parking spaces over to meters might not create any new revenue, as it is likely that those staff members will park their cars in other municipal lots where they will take up a spot another car might otherwise park in. Also, the driveway into that lot is extremely narrow, and there are serious safety concerns connected with inviting scores more vehicle trips into and out of that lot each day. If the meters were placed, however, and maintained at 70% capacity (the average for a downtown meter), it could potentially bring an additional $5,040 per year in meter money ($35,280 for all 7 meters), but meter money is collected in the Parking Meter Reserve Fund where it is used to pay upkeep and maintenance costs for the city's parking lots and garage, and does not go into the city's General Fund, and therefore does not affect the city's budget gap.
Each City Councilor earns a stipend of $5,000 per year ($5,500 for the City Council president). This is governed by City Ordinance, and therefore could not just be cut during the budget process. The City Council also has responsibilities above and beyond any other volunteer Board member or Commissioner. Councilors typically work on behalf of the City and its residents hundreds of hours a year, use their own vehicles to travel to meetings and to constituent's neighborhoods, use their own phones for city business, attend numerous meetings and occasional trainings on their own time. The stipend is meant as a small acknowledgment of the level of service required of a City Councilor.
Centralizing registration for conferences and trainings is certainly an option to look at. As it stands, the number of trainings, workshops and professional development opportunities for city staff will be dramatically curtailed in the FY2010 budget.