Jackson City Council members say they are puzzled by the alarm Mayor Tony Yarber has sounded over the prospects for significant layoffs in police and fire operations when no layoffs have been proposed.
The council has suggested slightly more than $1 million in cuts for filling vacant police positions and freezes in new hiring of firefighters. The council also wants to save $600,000 by leaving positions vacant at public works.
The zoo would take a direct hit of $600,000 under the council’s spending plan, dropping the current $1.2 million to $600,000. The Jackson Redevelopment Authority would have to look elsewhere for $2.8 million it wants as part of a $4.3 million reserve fund.
This plan, the council said in an emailed statement Friday morning, does not lower the number of police officers or firefighters who currently serve.
The different directions desired by the council and mayor in offsetting a $15 million shortfall ensure plenty of wrangling is ahead in the weeks leading to the Oct. 1 deadline for adopting a budget.
Mayor Yarber is insisting on new taxes and fees to meet the shortfall. His remedies include an 8 percent tax increase and furloughs of city workers one Friday a month.
Yarber, who is in his first as mayor after a stint on the City Council, promised he will look at the council’s proposals. He stressed in an email statement Thursday night that he is unsettled by what he said is the council’s support for “mass layoffs” in public safety operations and “drastic” cutbacks in spending on public works spending.
“I am deeply concerned about the impact on public safety, mainly because council members have proposed significant reductions in the police department and the fire department,” Yarber said.
His administration had hoped to avoid “mass layoffs,” he said.
“Proposed drastic cuts to the Department of Public Works,” he added, would come “at a time when the department has begun making progress on street resurfacing and other road issues.”
In addition to keeping non-public safety workers at home unpaid one day a month over a two-year period, Yarber wants a freeze on new hiring and new vehicle purchases. He also wants higher fees on business licenses and car tags.
The city’s fiscal 2014-15 budget earmarked $21.7 million for fire protection and $128 million for police. The totals are reductions in public safety from the fiscal 2013-14 budget, which allocated $25 million to fire and $139 million to police.
Public works spending is $290 million in the current budget.