In the weeds: City eyes code enforcement cuts during budget crisis

QUICKREAD

The city of Grand Junction plans to cuts its 2010 budget, adopted three months ago at $134 million, because sales and use tax revenue came in under budget in January. Cuts will depend on how long and how far sales and use tax revenue remains under budget. The budget also could shrink if other revenue sources, such as severance tax, federal mineral lease dollars and development fees, come up short.

The city is bracing for possibilities that range from a $2.5 million shortfall, which would have April through December on budget and just the first quarter of the year experiencing a budget shortfall, to a $10.2 million shortfall, which would result from each month this year coming in as far under budget as January in sales and use tax revenue. January sales and use tax revenue was 22.7 percent below January 2009 revenue.

City Manager Laurie Kadrich has suggested an initial cut somewhere in the middle totalling at least $5 million.



The Grand Junction City Council this week will consider budget cuts that include a much smaller Code Enforcement Department.

Tim Moore, director of the Public Works and Planning Department, which oversees Code Enforcement, said one and maybe two of the three officers who enforce city codes will accept an early-retirement package, possibly leaving the department with one officer.

Code Enforcement handles everything from regulations on weeds, animals and junk in people’s yards, to making sure people have permits for things such as signs and fences, to removing graffiti and enforcing smoking laws.

“The weed program starts May 1. We’ve got some time to figure out a plan before then,” Moore said.

City personnel have brainstormed for two weeks to identify possible cuts based on two lists presented to the City Council during a Feb. 15 budget workshop, Moore said. Ideas from a 20-item list that would cut $4.5 million from the 2010 budget and a list of 10 additional budget-cutting possibilities totaling $1.5 million have been combined into a list that the City Council will consider Wednesday.

Reducing the size of Code Enforcement received no objections from City Council members during the Feb. 15 budget meeting, during which the idea to limit or eliminate the department was introduced. Code Enforcement is one arm of the Neighborhood Services Division, which also faces budget cuts that would eliminate or reduce the city’s ability to offer some neighborhood grants.

The Public Works and Planning Department could feel another budget pinch in the planning area, Moore said. Any staff reductions would be determined by how many projects the department handles this year. Moore said his goal is to stick to historical levels of how many planners were needed to work on a certain number of applications and projects.

The department has left some planning positions open after recent retirements and the transfer of an engineer to the Parks and Recreation Department.

The city plans to lose 24 positions on or before April 1 through a one-time early-retirement offer, according to city spokeswoman Sam Rainguet. Employees were notified of the offer Nov. 10 and had until Nov. 30 to apply for the offer. City employees 50 years or older were eligible for the package, which offered workers a lump sum payment of 25 percent of what they earned in 2009.

An employee’s eligibility for the offer is not dependent on how long a person has worked at the city, but anyone that has worked there for at least 15 years will receive $5,000 toward a medical insurance program that a person can use until they reach the qualifying age for Medicare, which is 65.

The Public Works and Planning Department had the most takers, eight, for the package, followed by seven people in the Fire Department, and six in Parks and Recreation.

The equivalent of another 32 full-time jobs were left open after employees quit or retired last year or new positions were abandoned, meaning the city employs 60 fewer people than it did a year ago, bringing the full-time-equivalent total to 651. The city projects another six people will leave after a second labor-force-reduction program is rolled out some time this year, Rainguet said.

The city also will save money by having seven employees work jobs outside of what they usually do.

Two of the employees taking the early-retirement package came from the city’s real estate division, which recently was dissolved. The division’s two employees who did not choose to retire have been moved to different departments.

The real estate division was responsible for finding and gaining ownership of rights-of-way and easements needed for city infrastructure and overseeing special, alley, street and sewer improvement districts.


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