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Here’s an idea . . .
by Tribune Editorial Board
Jul 03, 2010 | 818 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
We reported this week that the city of Sparks has the opportunity to receive a federal grant of $2.3 million to hire 11 more firefighters. On the surface, that sounds great — where do we sign and when do we get our money?  However, nothing good comes without a price. In this case, the price for $2.3 million is the promise of no layoffs in the fire department for two years.  Given the state of the city’s coffers, that is a promise that cannot be guaranteed. In fact, with the projected deficit for 2012, the fire department’s share is about $700,000 and Chief Andy Flock said he can only cut about $200,000 before slicing into people’s jobs.

That got us thinking – with all the layoffs of the past couple of years and with city employees taking a 7.5 percent pay cut, has the city made cuts in all departments across the board? We hear of layoffs in Parks and Recreation, layoffs in public works, layoffs in the police department and on and on, and yet the subject of reducing the number of elected officials governing our city is never discussed.

Fair is fair: If layoffs have been made in all city departments, why not also on the City Council?  Granted, that would more than likely involve a change in the city charter and approval of the state Legislature, but maybe it’s time to think outside the box and get the ball rolling.

We taxpayers are currently paying salaries for five council members and a mayor. If you look at the map of the five City Council wards — you can find one on the city’s website, — you’ll see how easy it would be to eliminate Ward 5 by combining Wards 1 and 2 and redrawing boundaries to have four wards with even population bases. It would mean more doors to knock on for the representatives but with their high level of dedication to the job we’re sure they can handle it.

However, under this scenario, a 2-2 tie in council voting would not be unusual. The city charter would have to be changed to give the mayor the power to break a tie — giving him or her something to do other than pounding the gavel and cutting the ribbon at the grand opening of the newest store in Sparks.

Elimination of one City Council position would save the city $43,000 each year in salary plus costs of health insurance, retirement and other associated costs — a fifth laptop computer, a fifth copy of all paperwork going to council members, a fifth reimbursement of mileage and cell phone for city business, etc. When you look at the entire budget, that doesn’t seem like much, but neither did the hourly salary of the public works employees who got pink slips. A lot of little budget cuts add up to big budget cuts.

While this past spring the mayor and members of the City Council graciously consented to 7.5 percent pay and/or benefit cuts — with Mayor Martini leading the way by taking a 15 percent cut — there is still the same number of people sitting at the curvy table in the council chambers as there was two years ago. If you have employee meetings of all other departments in the city, there is a drastic difference in attendance now compared to pre-budget cuts.  All other city employees have endured pay cuts and layoffs of co-workers.

We know decisions of layoffs never come easy, but it appears easier for the City Council to approve cuts in other areas rather than in their own.
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Here’s an idea . . . by Tribune Editorial Board

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