WESTMINSTER – Residents will soon see slower response time to police calls, delays in building permits and inspections and many other reductions in city services.
The community got its first look Friday night at how proposed municipal government layoffs will affect city services. And the picture is grim.
Festivals and parades will be eliminated. The “City Hall at the Mall” satellite will shut down. And talking to a live person on the phone or at City Hall will get a lot harder, with fewer employees to staff the front counter.
Faced with a $10.5 million deficit, the city is looking to cut 68 employees, increase dozens of fees, consider new taxes and look at outsourcing services.
“All remaining staff will be stretched in ways they haven’t been stretched before,” Assistant City Manager Eddie Manfro told the City Council during Friday’s study session.
Every day the city delays the layoffs and early retirements, is costing $29,000, City Manager Mitch Waller said. If nothing is done, the city will be broke by 2014.
The Police Department will be among the hardest hit in the plan to stave off insolvency.
Though city officials stress they are not laying off any sworn personnel, they are leaving four positions vacant and a fifth officer is taking an early retirement. Those positions will not be filled and the department will not be able to hire new officers to replace anyone else who leaves, Police Chief Ron Coopman said.
Under the proposed fiscal stabilization plan, the number of officers would be reduced to 88. Five or six years ago, Westminster police had 105 sworn officers, Coopman said.
The department faces the loss of 23 full- and part-time personnel, Coopman said. The impact of the losses will directly affect residents and include:
•A general increase in response times to all calls for services and a “potential for drastic delays” in lower priority calls.
•Police will no longer perform routine crime scene investigation functions.
•Only major crime scenes will be processed.
•Victims may see their cases not investigated “in a timely manner and some cases possibly expiring under the statute of limitations.”
•Increased processing time and customer wait times for parking complaints, while hearings related to parking will shift to sworn personnel, resulting in delayed response to calls and increased overtime.
•Three code enforcement officers will be switched to the department and work under police supervision.
•The department’s front lobby hours will be reduced during weekdays and closed on Saturdays.
•The lobby window will not be staffed and all phone calls will see an increase in “hold time.”
The impact of the layoffs on the department is “significant,” Coopman said after the study session.
The layoffs also are expected to affect services in other departments, including the planning and building divisions, where plan checks, inspection requests and permit applications may take twice as long, calls may not be answered in person and staff at the counter will decrease from nine hours a day to five hours a day. Some of those jobs, particularly inspections, may be outsourced when the demand is high, officials said.
An overflow crowd filled the council chambers and a handful of residents spoke to express their concern about the cuts.
“My main concern is the safety of my kids,” said resident Mark Miller. If the sworn officers are busy filling in with other tasks, “who is patrolling the streets?”
Diana Lee Carey, a city traffic commissioner, questioned the pairing of code enforcement with police and the loss of the police chief’s secretary position. She also said that the city will end up paying more for police in the long run if so many layoffs are implemented: “You are not going to gain anything if you have to pay them overtime,” she said.
The city has been facing a $1.5 million deficit annually since the recession began in 2008, Waller said. This year, the financial situation was compounded by the loss of redevelopment revenue, when the state abolished all redevelopment agencies. Unlike most other cities that have pockets of their community under redevelopment zones, the entire city is under a redevelopment area. Westminster officials used redevelopment money to partly pay salaries.
Councilman Tyler Diep said the city was used to living beyond its means. “We don’t have that luxury anymore,” he said.
Waller, the city manager, said cuts were made across all departments. Future projects, some already in the pipeline, could be jeopardized, he said. And city staff is looking into finding new revenue through a new tax, such as utility or sales tax increase.
Mayor Margie Rice said she would have wanted to see more salary reductions and she questioned why there are three top management positions: city manager, assistant city manager and assistant to the city manager. “I think we’re overloaded on the top,” she said.
The assistant to the city manager position was created last June as an administrative position and “not a top level management position,” Waller said Saturday. And the assistant city manager post also was created last June, combining two department heads: human resources and finance director jobs. Under the proposed plan, Manfro, the assistant city manager, will also take on the duties of the community development director, who is scheduled to be laid off.
The City Council is scheduled to meet again and possibly vote on the proposed layoffs at 7 p.m. Wednesday.