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Oklahoma City Council looks at reducing costs and eliminating programs to manage 2011 budget



As the Oklahoma City Council embarks on one of the toughest years in city history in regards to the budget, there are two key questions each councilor faces: What, if anything, is off the table when it comes to reducing costs? Additionally, what should be considered first when making reductions?

Nothing off the table
Non-value activity
Projected Revenue Target Shortfalls

The council held its first budgetary meeting on Jan. 26, and the news was not good. Under current projections, the city is looking at a fiscal year 2011 budget estimated to be 8.4 percent below the current fiscal year. Declining sales tax figures are the culprit.

The city budget department estimates next year's budget to be around $321 million. Maybe. With such a bleak outlook for the coming fiscal year, the council will have to make some hard choices on what programs and services get cut and what survives. For most of the council members, the answer to the first question" what is off the table " was an easy one to answer.

"I don't think there is anything that can, or should, be taken off the table with the size of the shortfall we are anticipating," said Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer.

Nothing off the table
Other council members agreed.

"There is nothing 'off the table' concerning this year's budget analysis," Ward 4 Councilman Pete White said.

"Nothing should be off the table; however, the list of options we consider should be prioritized," was Ward 8 Councilman Pat Ryan's response.

But Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee did have one area he believes should be hands-off.

"My position is and has been that any reduction in fire or police is off the table," McAtee said.

Ward 5 Councilman Brian Walters echoed McAtee's opinion on preserving public safety budgets.

While not making any specific suggestions as to what should be cut or how the council should go about slicing up the budget, city staff did compile a list of options for the council to consider.

Among the items were:
No pay increases12 percent cut for each departmentChange the health planReduce salariesFurlough daysNo merit increasesChange police shift schedulesEliminate or reduce the police take-home car programCivilianize public safety support positionsReduce the subsidy to the city golf coursesReorganize some city functionsThis is where the second question" what gets cut first " comes into play. It was a question council members had a more difficult time answering. Ryan went back to his answer on the first question, prioritizing the options.

"This process should be based, at least in part, on impact on the public and the amount of deficit reduction achieved," he said.

Non-value activity
For McAtee, it starts with reducing "non-value activity."

"A non-value-added activity is any activity that does not produce a benefit to our citizens," McAtee said. When asked to give an example of a wasteful cost, McAtee pointed directly to the Jan. 26 budget meeting. The reason being the meeting was not held in the usual location of the City Council chamber inside City Hall. The budget workshop was held at the Cox Convention Center and included food and drinks.

Kristy Yager, director of the city's communication department, said it cost approximately $1,650. She said the room used for the meeting was free, but charges were made for the food, drinks and the use of audio and video equipment.

When it comes to cuts, both Salyer and White are following a path laid out by Ward 1 Councilman Gary Marrs at a previous council meeting. Marrs said the council should not just look at reducing programs and services, but their elimination instead. He believes a reduction gives the impression the service or program can still properly function to the public when it may not due to a cut. Marrs said it would be better to just eliminate the service so the public knows not to expect it.

"I do agree with Councilman Marrs that we need to do more than just looking at how we provide the same services with fewer people and resources," Salyer said. "We need to take a hard look at the programs and services we offer and perhaps eliminate, during this challenging period, some of those services altogether."

White echoed that idea: "I think we should look at Councilman Marrs' idea of looking for services we can eliminate entirely as opposed dropping the level of services across the board," he said.

Mayor Mick Cornett declined to give his thoughts about budget priorities until city departments submitted their proposals.

Projected Revenue Target Shortfalls
Sales tax - $16 million
Use tax - $1.5 million
Charges for services - $1 million
Other taxes - $0.4 million
Licenses, permits, fees - $0.3 million
Fines - $0.1 million
Total shortfall - $19.5 million
Source: Oklahoma City Budget Department
"Scott Cooper | Photo by Mark Hancock

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