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Budget cuts affect workers, city

Job cuts at City Hall come from an effort to stay within a shrinking budget without raising the tax levy.

Tuesday evening's (Oct. 13) City Council meeting revealed publicly for the first time the ugly side of the city's recent budget talks: Layoffs.

After beginning budget work in September, the city staff held a workshop with council members before this week's meeting. The proposed budget includes eliminating some positions and reducing the hours of others.

Rhonda Davison, a River Falls Municipal Utilities employee and president of the local AFSCME union, spoke on the workers' behalf at Tuesday's meeting, asking the city to reconsider the layoff option and "work together" to identify other ways to stay within a shrinking budget.

She said she had learned at an Oct. 6 meeting about two immediate cuts -- both customer service representatives near the entrance of City Hall - as well as about plans for more. Davison said after the meeting that she needs to clarify it but thinks that if others cuts happen, it would be before January.

Included in the proposed budget are plans to eliminate a police captain, a street maintenance worker, a building inspector, a library aide and a library custodian. The clerk of court, secretary/deputy clerk of court, four library aides and a customer service representative would have their hours reduced under the proposed plan.

The preliminary budget suggests adding a police sergeant, a deputy clerk/development assistant and an account clerk/deputy clerk. Implementing the cuts and additions would save the city $231,541.

Davison asked the council during the public hearing if the city had considered other options before layoffs such as furloughs, retirement incentives or re-organization. She said the losses would affect morale and the city's customer service.

Her words during the public comment session drew no response from council members or city staff; afterward it moved through its agenda somberly.

After the meeting, City Administrator Scot Simpson said the job cuts come as part of an effort to keep the city at a zero tax increase for 2010. He said there aren't any cuts (to make) that will not somehow impact the city.

He confirmed that some job cuts could be made by not replacing people who leave and said that night's budget workshop had focused on how to make ends meet.

Simpson expects a finalized budget within the next several weeks, then a public hearing on it, then a council vote whether to accept it.

The administrator said he couldn't predict how the council would vote but anticipated with all things considered, the members would support the proposed cuts.

Davison emphasized that everyone involved wants to maintain a positive working relationship and solve the budget deficit together.