FOP proposes more than 40 ways to cut budget deficit

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 12, 2014 

Robertson

Randy Robertson, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, presented Columbus Council last week with a 36-page report outlining more than 40 recommendations on how to overcome what has become perennial deficit spending in the Columbus Consolidated Government.

The FOP solicited input from the public and from city employees to gather ideas for the report.

"We asked all city employees -- public safety, general government and citizens within the community -- to tell us what needed to be done to get us back on track and out of the ditch we seem to be in right now," Robertson said. "We got a tremendous amount of recommendations, 43 of them in the report."

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who welcomed the report, said she had forwarded copies to all department heads and intends to prepare a response once she and the department heads had run cost-benefit analyses on the proposals. A discussion of the report is included on the Mayor's Agenda for Tuesday morning's council meeting.

"I think there are a lot of great ideas in here," Tomlinson said. "We're going to get a response so we can continue the dialog and conversation."

Some members of council also welcomed the input. At-large Councilor Judy Thomas said while none of the ideas would save huge amounts of money, they could add up to some real budget savings.

"These may not solve all of the budget concerns," Thomas said. "Some things can be implemented fairly easily that may not rise to the $2 million level. But if you do this one and this one and this one, it may get us closer."

Among the proposals included in the report are a recommendation that council adopt priority budgeting as opposed to incremental budgeting.

"Priority budgeting would allow the city council, elected officials and city department heads to engage in a thorough strategic re-assessment of what services are offered by the local government and what services need to be reduced, increased or discontinued when constructing an annual budget," the report reads.

The process would include prioritizing services, doing the important things well and cutting back on the rest, questioning past patterns of spending, spending within the organization's means and demanding accountability for results.

The FOP also recommended the city look into budgeting every two years instead of every year, as some other American cities do.

Recommendations for Public Safety changes include:

• Consolidate the Sheriff's and Marshal's Offices' dispatch operations into the 911 Center.

• Eliminate duplicate and ineffective crime prevention programs, such as the DARE program.

• Transfer all fire and crime prevention programs to the office of Crime Prevention.

• Transfer arson investigations from the fire department to the police department.

• Stop sending large fire trucks out on emergency medical calls.

• Eliminate window tinting on public safety patrol vehicles.

• Privatize all city ambulance services.

• Eliminate paramedic training within the fire department.

Among the recommendations for General Government changes were:

• Eliminate CCG-TV and use interns from Columbus State University to operate the department.

• Transfer all employment application services to the Georgia Department of Labor.

• Eliminate the city printing department and transfer all printing to CSU.

• Transfer all 311 calls to the 911 Call Center.

• Consolidate Metra bus routes.

• Reduce hours at parks and recreation venues.

• Eliminate all city cellphones and data cards.

• Eliminate all vehicle allowances.

• Eliminate subsidies to the Civil War Naval Museum and Keep Columbus Beautiful.

• Reduce waste collection to once a week.

• Privatize as many city services as is practical, such as landscaping, custodial work, tree trimming and removal, large vehicle maintenance and management of the Aquatic Center (which has already been done).

The report also includes several health care recommendations, including:

• Allowing all city employees to get prescriptions filled at the employee medical clinic, not just those who use the clinic.

• Eliminate all tobacco use on any city property or in any city vehicle.

• Remove all snack and soft drink vending machines from city property.

Robertson said the city's leadership will likely need to make difficult decisions in order to get the budget balanced.

"We have to sit down together, check our egos at the door, and come together and work out viable solutions," Robertson said. "I hate to say it, but if those viable solutions mean a department goes away, that an individual goes away, that an executive position, a director, goes away … then that's what we do. But we don't wait till there's a deficit to make those decisions."

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