City to cut six staffers

"The Oak Harbor City Council quietly passed an incomplete 2001 budget and rejected a tax increase at the last meeting of the year Tuesday night.To balance the city's $10 million general fund budget, city officials will have to lay off five or six employees in January.Interim City Supervisor Doug Merriman said the budget passed Tuesday has $500,000 in cuts, but does not specify how to pay for $340,000 of those cuts. Merriman says the city leadership has a good idea where the half-dozen layoffs will be, but officials need at least a couple more weeks to analyze the impacts and research the potential legal fallout.For the second time this year, Councilman John LaFond suggested re-authorizing a utility tax in order to soften the blow and save some of the city positions. The city's 7 percent utility tax, which was added last year in response to Initiative 695, expires in a week. The majority of the council has been reluctant to redo the tax because they promised to let it expire Dec. 31 unless it was voted on by the community. It did not appear of the November ballot.LaFond suggested raising the tax by a smaller amount. A 4 percent utility tax, for example, would raise about $235,000 a year and would save most of the staff positions on the chopping block. Even a 2 percent tax, he said, would make a big difference for the budget.Yet LaFond's motion failed by a 4-2 vote. He and Danny Paggao voted for it while Sheilah Crider, Paul Brewer, Richard Davis and Nora O'Connell-Balda voted against it. Councilman Bob Morrison was absent.We made a commitment to the city last year, Crider said. We must continue holding faith with the people.Since nobody is certain where the layoff ax will fall, Merriman said there there is a lot of anxiety at City Hall. It's not an easy time for employees here, he said.Several city employees spoke at the council meeting Tuesday and chided council members for refusing to make the tough decision of raising taxes to keep the city running. Here we are again, same game different year, said firefighter Jason Lamar, criticizing the city leadership for annually looking to the fire department for cuts. He said most of the council members did not take the time to visit the department and learn about it, as they apparently promised to do. He questioned their credibility and ability to make staffing decisions without understanding how the department functions.How much are you willing to endure before biting the bullet and paying for the services you get? Lamar asked.The councilors passed the budget unanimously without making any comments. Only after the vote did LaFond comment that there is still over $300,000 in cuts left.Merriman said the budget cuts that already have been made include about $145,000 in reduction to the capital improvement budget. That means the police department won't get an air conditioning system that works, the fire department won't get a reader board and various other purchases won't be made.Also, he said a secretary in the planning department won't be replaced, which will save around $35,000 a year. Instead, secretaries in other department will absorb the workload. "

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