DA Slater: I can't do the job under mayor's proposed budget cuts

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comMay 6, 2014 

District Attorney Julia Slater told Columbus Council’s Budget Review Committee that she will not be able to carry out the constitutionally mandated tasks of her office if she is forced to cut her budget to the extent laid out in Mayor Teresa Tomlinson’s proposed Fiscal 2015 city budget.

Speaking to the committee Tuesday afternoon, Slater said her proposed $1.89 million budget is 97 percent personnel, leaving her little room to cut costs without affecting personnel. In addition to that, Slater said, she needs six new positions – two she considers critical -- to take care of an ever increasing workload.

The mayor’s mandated 1.5 percent cut would trim $28,750 from her operating budget of about $84,000, she said. She has identified about $11,000 in potential savings, without affecting her ability to carry out her obligations. But that would mean council would have to restore almost $18,000 to her budget from elsewhere in an already tight city budget.

“I’m not asking for $18,000 more money, I’m just asking to be forgiven the $18,000 that I couldn’t cut,” Slater told councilors.

Tomlinson submitted her proposed $263 million budget to council last month. It leaves the city with only 60.7 days of reserves on hand, less than a day above the level at which bond rating companies might lower the city’s bond rating.

In recent years, since the 2008 recession, councilors have annually dipped into reserves to make up for situations like Slater is facing. But this year, Budget Review Chairman Skip Henderson has been adamant with fellow councilors that if they want to add something to the budget, they will have to find savings in another department.

The six new positions include four that Slater requested but didn’t get last year. Those included two new assistant district attorneys, an investigator and a secretary, which were needed because of the addition of another Superior Court judge last year, she said.

Two other new positions, which Slater said she is really pushing for even more than the other four, would be assigned to Juvenile Court, which has undergone state-mandated changes that mean her office must devote more resources there. Those positions are for an assistant district attorney and a clerk. They would add over $115,000 to the city’s budget, according to Finance Director Pam Hodge.

Councilor Judy Thomas asked Slater what would be the ramifications if council did not find enough money for her budget and for the two more pressing positions, the total of which would be about $133,000.

“What would probably happen, in all honesty, is we would continue to meet those (state juvenile court) mandates that have time limits and timelines,” Slater said. “But that would back up the caseload in the Superior Courts.”

“Which are already backed up?” Thomas asked.

“Which are already backed up, exactly,” Slater replied.

Councilors will not make a final decision on adding or deleting any specific budget items until their May 27 meeting, about a month before they are to pass the budget into law.

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