No Joke

Dear Readers,
Nothing funny about this news. City employees may be losing their jobs.
The city manager proposes cutting 4 full time and 4 part-time positions, and changing two full time positions to part time. In cold budgetary terms, this comes down to an “FTE” (full time equivalent) reduction of 8.11. Every city department would be affected.
City manager Barbara Matthews may have been matter-of-fact about it as she presented the proposed budget at the April 5 city council meeting, but she said that the job cut proposals were “not made lightly.”


Calling that an understatement is an understatement. Until this year of long knives, the city manager has stood by city staff repeatedly at budget review time, saying that given the city services called for, and the missions assigned it by the city council, the existing staff was the minimum required.
So, when Matthews says the proposals were “not made lightly,” she means, “it hurt like hell!” The fact that she saw no alternative but job elimination shows how the bad economy’s cold, dark shadow has grown over the country, the state, and the county.
No New Taxes
Matthews could have proposed a tax increase to cover those job salaries, but she didn’t, considering, she said, that many residents are also experiencing an economic downturn.
Keep in mind, Dear Readers, that this is a PROPOSED budget. The city council will review and change that budget over the next few weeks. It is possible that the council could raise taxes. Perhaps another revenue source could be found, but as Mayor Bruce Williams said, “there are not many other ways to raise money.”
Before she got to the job eliminations, the city manager listed the series of revenue deficits, reductions, and costs that led her to such an extreme: The state and county have slashed the amounts given to municipalities, the declining economy has dragged down tax and investment income. Personnel costs such as pensions and insurance continue to rise.
One of the employees whose position could be eliminated, would have the option of switching to a different position. Salaries of all remaining employees will remain constant but there will be no raises,. The number of days that city facilities are open may be reduced.
The Public Works Department renovation remains in the budget. Matthews defended it, saying it is cheaper in the long run to do it now while loan rates are low and construction is cheap. The county and state are doing the same with their capital projects, she said. A capital project is one that maintains or improves public buildings, roads, bridges or other assets.
Job eliminations and other changes would take effect when the city’s fiscal year ends June 30.
Oh joy
Yes, it’s that time of year again. The city council shoulders it’s most important job., the staff enters its most stressful time, and Your Gilbert curls into a fetal position, screaming into his clenched fists.
It’s city budget time! Hours of number crunching, nitpicking, department reviewing, and the many other rituals that everyone finds so fascinating. Citizens flock to the city council meetings and fight for scarce seats, the national media turn out, and the city earns most of its revenue from budget-meeting concession and souvenir sales.
No, Dear Readers, sadly that is not true. It is quite the opposite. In fact what happens is that the council chambers echo with the pitter-pat of fading footsteps as citizens run in the opposite direction, Your Gilbert sighs, pours himself a stiff one, and settles in for the lonely vigil.
The Boy Scout’s Motto
Is “Be Prepared!” Like a good scout, the city wants to be prepared, too. That’s why it has an Emergency Preparedness Committee.
The committee reported to the council April 5 that it is not prepared – not as prepared as it would like to be.
Getting the message out to enough residents, and getting them to actually prepare for an emergency is difficult. For example, how many of you ,Dear Readers, have a three week supply of food? Ha, you made their point!
Although Wolfgang Mergner, the committee co-chair cited progress in community preparedness and awareness, he said he was very worried about the lack of it in big apartment buildings. Those buildings contain a large part of the population, he noted.
Councilmember Fred Schultz pointed out that each emergency is unique and that the city should not act like army generals preparing to fight the last battle. They should prepare for other scenarios as well. For example, the next emergency might not call for sheltering in place, as the recent big snow storm required. It might involve getting residents to evacuation centers.
PIcking up on a comment made by committee member Andy Keleman, Colleen Clay and Schultz constructed the framework of an idea. Keleman pointed out that civilians are less prepared for emergencies because they don’t practice for them as emergency agencies do. Maybe neighborhood residents should run practice drills, suggested Clay and Schultz.
Your Gilbert wants to make the siren go! And we’ll guard the liquor.
Coincidence?
It was snow coincidence at all! The Emergency Preparedness Committee report was followed by a city assessment of how well (or not) it dealt with the big blizzard earlier this year.
Again, kudos were handed out to lots of folks: the Public Works Department, the police, the staff, and citizens. Then they turned a more critical eye on the events during the Big Storm.
The police said they lost a critical communication link to the community when their liaison officer Kathy Plevy was snowed in at home with no power. They had no back up plan, an oversight they say they will correct.
The Public Works Dept. had trouble locating and digging out fire hydrants. It was suggested that next time a big storm is predicted, they place a tall flag on each hydrant to make finding it easier.
Keeping up with new technology is important. Public Works director Daryl Braithwaite mentioned a new method of pretreating roads with a beet juice and salt mixture.
Mayor Bruce Williams suggested a snow-emergency parking policy in which parking would be shifted to one side of a street, and alternated to the other to allow for better plowing. Something similar was proposed as a region-wide policy at a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments meeting forum last week, as reported in the Washington Post.

– Gilbert
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About the Author

Gilbert
Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

1 Comment on "No Joke"

  1. The deadly silence of a community facing its day of reckoning?

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