Annapolis mayor's $82.3M budget includes layoffs, service cuts

Just days after announcing that almost three dozen city workers would be laid off amid a record budget deficit, Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen unveiled Monday night an $82.3 million operating budget that restructures key city departments by eliminating managerial positions, cuts some city services and reduces overall spending.

Presenting his budget to the City Council, Cohen called his plan "responsible" as the city contended with a deficit of at least $2.6 million in the current fiscal year and a projected shortfall of at least $8 million for fiscal year 2011. Cohen's proposed operating budget for the next fiscal year is balanced, erasing the deficit as required by law, and the city is still working to pare down the deficit for the current fiscal year, which has been decreased by about half.

Cohen prefaced his budget proposal with remarks about the layoffs, saying he took a "balanced and equitable approach" to dealing with the city's financial woes, that he "inherited a financial train wreck," and "deeply regretted" having to do layoffs.

Cohen, who was sworn in as mayor three months ago, laid off 33 employees Friday, a mix of contract employees and civil service personnel. Cohen has also pushed for the elimination of another 52 positions; 38 are already vacant and 14 positions, a mix of bus drivers and parking enforcement officers, would be eliminated July 1. He has vowed to spare the city's police officers and firefighters in any job cuts. But Cohen warned that without $2.4 million in union concessions, more layoffs are likely, and no department or agency would be spared.

"For the first time in our city's history, through no fault of our own, we are running out of funds," said Cohen, a Democrat. "These are very difficult times. We will get through this. … At the heart of every crisis, there is the opportunity to get better."

Cohen's proposed budget decreases spending by 7.5 percent, does not include a tax rate increase and restructures three city government departments -- Economic Development, Central Services and Emergency Management. Each department's director would be eliminated and the remaining employees would merge into other departments. The proposal also decreases trash pickup from twice to once weekly and eliminates the city's parking enforcement officers, who would likely be replaced by contract workers.

The 2011-2012 capital budget also decreases spending by 71 percent over the previous year and cuts nonprofit grant funding by 50 percent, to about $200,000.

Cohen addressed a crowd in council chambers, with workers from some of the city's four unions criticizing the mayor's decision to lay off employees. Cohen also faced harsh words from some Democrats on the council, which has final approval over Cohen's proposed budget.

Alderwoman Classie Hoyle said city workers are being unfairly targeted during tough budgetary times.

"The unfairness of this situation makes me sick," said Hoyle, a Democrat. "It is my opinion that this administration rushed to decisions."

Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, also a Democrat, said she was "extremely saddened" by the layoffs and charged that Cohen had created a "culture of distrust and fear."

"Layoffs should have been the very last option," Finlayson said. "We were premature. ... We have not done due diligence before we eliminated jobs."

Fred Paone, the body's lone Republican, said he thought Cohen was taking the "prudent approach" to the budget process and called the layoffs last week "regrettable but inevitable."

"I think [the layoffs] are unfortunate, but this is something that the last administration has warned about but chose to ignore," Paone said.

Glenard Middleton Sr., executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, said the layoffs had left workers feeling "assaulted, disrespected and violated."

"We're not going to allow this budget to be balanced on the backs of the hardworking workers," Middleton said.

Cohen's proposed budget assumes $2.4 million in union concessions. The city is negotiating with the city's four unions, which represent a large majority of Annapolis' 720-person workforce.

Cohen stressed that all unions should be prepared to make tough concessions, including the union representing the city's 121 police officers and 133 firefighters. Cohen said he avoided laying off any police officers or firefighters in an attempt to protect public safety, but if their unions aren't willing to make concessions, all bets are off.

"For them to take a position that compromises public safety does not make sense," Cohen said. "I'm calling on all employees to weather the storm."

Jay Tucker, a Department of Public Works employee and president of one of the local AFSCME unions, said union officials are willing to negotiate.

"Instead of starting with cost-cutting measures, they're going straight to layoffs," said Tucker, who has worked for the city for 18 years. "We backed Mr. Cohen to go into office and we just want a fair shake."

One city employee who got her layoff notice Monday said, at 60 years old, she's now left to find another job to pay her mortgage, car payment and try to find health insurance. The employee, who asked that she not be identified by name, worked as a police record specialist for nearly four years, and said she's "hopeful" that union leadership will be successful in getting her job back.

"Whatever situation was mismanaged, we should not have to bear the brunt," she said.

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