Thirty-Seven Tulsa City Employees Get Pink Slips
By Lori Fullbright, Jeffrey Smith, and Chris Wright -- The News On 6
TULSA, OK -- The City of Tulsa is proposing to trim $6 million from its budget and that means 37 people who work for the City of Tulsa are losing their jobs, 21 of them are police officers.
The 16 non-police employees will be laid off from various city departments and other positions will not be filled. The cuts affect the development services department, the Gilcrease Performing Arts Center, animal shelters, the city's legal, human resources, communications, and finance departments as well as INCOG and the Emergency Management Agency.
The Parks and Recreation Department is eliminating three positions, and not filling a vacant assistant director job at the zoo.
"We're going to take a look at our resources, reassign responsibilities, and make it work," said Terrie Correll, Tulsa Zoo Director.
Director Terrie Correll says the assistant would have been in charge of the zoo's education programs and acquiring animals. Instead, those duties will now fall to her and the current staff.
"In the long term it will have some ramifications for the zoo, but hopefully this is a short-term problem," said Terrie Correll.
In addition to the city layoffs, the police department will get rid of its helicopter unit and the horse patrol. Mayor Kathy Taylor says the cuts are necessary because city revenue was down again.
The department's two helicopters will be grounded and the five officers transferred. The Mounted Patrol unit is being disbanded, the horses will be sold and officers transferred.
"The helicopter unit is a big ticket item and it was either cops or helicopters and I chose cops," said Chief Ron Palmer, Tulsa Police.
The police and fire departments also won't be hiring new people in the spring.
Police Chief Ron Palmer says this is the first time in Tulsa police officers were laid off for budget reasons. Chief Palmer delivered the news to the officers during a meeting at police headquarters.
It's hard for Darin Ehrenrich to believe the loss of a promising new career. Ehrenrich says his first concern is to the citizens of Tulsa. His second is to his brothers and sisters who join him in the ranks of the unemployed.
"I don't think any of us goes here for the money. I don't think anyone goes into this job to get rich. But there's brothers and sisters behind me that have mortgages, have children, have families, and you know, my heart goes out to them," said Darin Ehrenrich, a laid off police officer.
Shaun Downie graduated from the Police Academy in January with 11 other officers. All 12 are among the 21 who lost their jobs.
"I just bought a house, closed on it two weeks ago. So I don't know," said Shaun Downie, a laid off police officer.
Adam Yerton was a third generation Tulsa police officer, until a week of speculation became official.
"It stings a little," said Adam Yerton, a laid off police officer.
As for Ehrernrich, he says the budget crisis has cost him his dream career.
"I know that I've wanted to do this since I was five-years-old, this is what I always wanted to do," said Darin Ehrenrich.
The 21 officers will meet with police administrators Wednesday to discuss other job opportunities.
Some officers wonder how the city can build the BOK Center and a new ball park and buy a new city hall, then turn around and lay off the very people who protect us at all those places.
"None of these layoffs are as a result of the BOK, One Technology Center or ball park. They are due to one thing, the city's revenue has decreased," said Mayor Kathy Taylor.
Every department was asked to cut its budget two and a half percent for a total savings to the city of $6 million. They say they tried to make cuts that would hurt citizens the least.
Mayor Taylor said the city is asking the U.S. Department of Justice if it can use a $3.5 million stimulus grant to fund 18 of the 21 police jobs.
Taylor said the city is talking with the FOP to find ways of saving the other three TPD jobs.
The mayor says people who don't like these cuts should call their state legislator to get the law changed. Right now, cities can only get money through sales tax and other usage taxes, which fluctuate with the economy. Mayor Taylor says if cities were allowed to get money based on property taxes, Tulsa would be looking at a four percent budget increase right now, not a two percent decrease.
The bulk of the cuts come from eliminating jobs, but the city is trimming the fat in other places too:
- Training and travel budgets have been slashed by $176,000.
- City employees are also giving up cell phones, blackberries and pagers to save $18,000.
- Public works will save $240,000 by turning off the lights along the highways, everywhere but the IDL and major interchanges.
- Firefighters will lose $120,000 worth of fitness bonuses.
- City courts will save $3,000 by eliminating refreshments, like coffee for jurors.
- And the finance department will give up $1,600 in magazine subscriptions.