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Residents asked to review proposed four-year financial plan

Date: 3/1/2010

March 1, 2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Mayor Domenic Sarno and Chief Administrative and Finance Officer (CAFO) Lee Erdmann would like Springfield residents to take the next few weeks to look over the draft of the four-year financial plan for the city and give them their reactions.

The plan, mandated by state law, must be in a final form by March 30. The draft is available for residents to review on the city's Web site,

Hard copies of either the executive summary or the full report can be requested by calling the city's 311 information line.

Comments and suggestions can be made to the 311 operators.

Erdmann said, unlike the city government prior to the arrival of the Finance Control Board in 2003, "We now have the internal capacity to manage this challenge."

The challenge is how to keep crafting balanced budgets during a time in which the city's expenses are projected to outstrip its revenues.

Sarno called the four-year planning effort "unprecedented" and said the draft "more business-like" in its approach to managing the city.

The mayor explained if the city didn't take a proactive approach, by fiscal year 2014 it would have a $636 million budget with a $96 million deficit.

"This [plan] will keep us in a place we want to be," Sarno added.

Ultimately, the plan is to help answer two questions, according to a letter to the City Council from Erdmann: what are the core services the city should provide and what is the most cost effective way to deliver these services?

Erdmann said the city faces a series of annual "expense drivers" that include increases in education, the city's pension system, debt service, personnel services, health insurance and contributions to the enterprise zone.

The draft plan lists 90 steps the city can take in revenue enhancement, additional grants, operational policies and capital polices. These include the following:

  • The city may increase the local hotel-motel tax by 2.75 percent for an increase of up to $578,000 in new revenue for fiscal year 2011.

    • The CAFO is required by law to review all local fees no less than every two years to ensure the cost of services is being adequately recovered.

    • An analysis of services should be considered in order to determine how many non-residents are benefiting from city-funded programs, Out-of-town residents could be charged a fee (or a greater fee, depending upon the program) for participation.

    • Grant applications should be targeted toward awards that enhance the core services of the city and support the mayoral priorities, not necessarily grants that add new non-essential programs or services.

    • The City Council should consider eliminating the city ordinance requiring contracts with the city for goods and services over $5,000, but less than $25,000. By eliminating this ordiance, there could be signifiant savings in the city's procurement process.

    • Educate city employees enrolled in the top tier of the city's health insurance program about the benefits of dropping one tier down in coverage, as it would save the city money.

    • The city should consider cutting all less-essential vacant positions.

      The city should negotiate new contracts with unions that would allow for bi-weekly paychecks.

    • The city should investigate the potential savings of offering employees a cash stipend who opt out of the city's health insurance plan.

    • The city should consider larger flat pay increases in lieu of incidentals such as time off on Fridays to cash checks, shopping time at Christmas, "show up to work" bonuses, and workers paid for full days but allowed to punch out before the end of a shift as part of a comprehensive contract review before new collective bargaining agreements.

    Sarno expressed surprise in reaction to questions about the "incidentals," as he and other officials were unaware they existed before scrutinizing current contracts. Finance and Budget Director T.J. Plante said the perks were not offered to all employees and are in only some of the city's 30 contracts with municipal unions.

    Erdmann said the 90 steps would not necessarily be implemented in the first year of the plan, and some may never be put in place. Part of the decision governing the final plan is left in the comments made by residents.

    Both Sarno and Erdmann are willing to attend the meetings of neighborhood councils, civic associations and other groups to explain the plan and to listen to comments. These meetings can be arranged by calling Sarno's office at 787-6100 or Erdmann's office at 784-1583.