Mayor Tomlinson, Colin Martin dismiss need for across-the-board budget cuts

benw@ledger-enquirer.comApril 24, 2014 

Columbus Council and mayoral candidates had mixed views Thursday on how budget cuts should be made to balance the city's spending during a forum sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.

During the 5 p.m. event at 4925 Forrest Road, candidates squared off on whether across the board or prioritized cuts is the best way to balance the city with a proposed budget of some $263 million for fiscal 2015.

Candidates attending the forum included Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and challenger Colin Martin, Councilor Jerry "Pops" Barnes facing Zeph Baker in District 1 and District 9 Councilor Judy Thomas opposed by business owner Felicia Hamilton. Early voting is Monday through May 16 and local elections are May 20.

Thomas said she does not support across the board cuts because some city departments can't function with them.

"I understand why they are recommended," she said. "We are making some pretty hard decisions right now in the budget area and I think that when you look at across the board rather than prioritize, you are limiting what you can do."

In order for the law enforcement to meet their 1.5 percent cut, Thomas said personnel would have to be reduced.

"They tell us they cut everything else," she said. "I'm not sure any of us want our police department, our sheriff's office, marshal's office and our fire department to lose personnel."

She noted that council is going to take a look at the proposed fee increases Parks and Recreation director James Worsley's presented this week.

"Some of them were brand new and we are going to have to take a look at that and make some decisions," Thomas said.

Hamilton recalled how her single mother had to prioritize after moving from New Jersey, deciding between ballet or baseball for the children or putting food on the table.

"It is difficult to say that across the board cuts would be effective or possible," she said. "At the same token, it's difficult to say prioritize cuts will solve the problem."

Even with prioritize cuts, Hamilton said some things go lacking.

"The city and leadership have to make very difficult decisions," Hamilton said. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity so I can have a reflective voice for the citizens."

Barnes said he gained extensive experience in the Army as a senior noncommissioned officer faced with difficult decisions. He is against across the board cuts but applauded the way Tomlinson dealt with the $8.5 million deficit in the proposed budget.

"I disagree with my counterparts because the bottom line is you go below a certain bond rating, the city is in trouble," Barnes said. "So you are caught between a rock and a hard place."

If there is a valid reason for a budget, Barnes said council is wise enough to state that you can have the item.

"Law enforcement was cut a half million dollars," he said. "I'm the one who put it back in there cause they deserve it."

When talking about the budget, Baker said the city has a spending problem.

"I beg to differ on cuts across the board," he said. "There are some departments you don't need to cut and I will focus on crime."

During walks in the Boxwood neighborhood, Baker said residents on Stratford Drive, Knight Drive and Dunhill have experienced several break-ins.

"They now are not able to live comfortable in their elderly years," Baker said. "People are telling them they are going to take their car and it won't be there when they wake up."

Baker said you can't cut public safety. A third of all burglaries in the city occurred in District 1 and the suspects are 25 years old and younger.

"We need some activities for our youth," Baker said. "It needs to be more than just a 2,000-square-foot building. We need a supercenter like Shirley Winston on Steam Mill Road."

Martin agrees that public safety can't be cut.

"I am a firm believer in priority budgeting," he said. "Priorities come from the citizens themselves."

Tomlinson said priority budgeting is the main reason the $8.5 million budget deficit was wiped away.

The city reformed the pension plan at a savings of $2.5 million, reformed health care to save $4.5 million and balanced the budget by unfunding vacant positions. The city also defunded excessive overtime.

"Those were direct priority cuts," she said.

After the direct cuts, there were still 1.5 percent cuts for department heads.

"I just want to say when you talk about 1.5 percent cuts, there are places to cut," the mayor said. "We have been paying $700 a pop for a sleep study for prisoners. I don't think we need to know how well they sleep."

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