Tulsa City Finance Director Says Budget Cuts May Impact Police, Fire

Thursday, October 31st 2013, 5:13 pm
By: Emory Bryan

The City of Tulsa's chief finance expert said Thursday that payroll cuts, including layoffs, are likely because of a $5 million budget gap.

But the mayor's office says that's not on the table, especially for police and fire. They believe savings elsewhere will make up the shortfall.

Several councilors criticized Mayor Dewey Bartlett Thursday for not keeping them informed about the budget plans, but the administration says the gap is not so much they can't manage it without layoffs, the kind they started with when the mayor took office.

The city council wants to know what the mayor plans to do about a budget shortfall that could be as much as $5 million this year.

"I had been hoping that we would get that from the administration, and I understand we're not operating in a vacuum here, it's a political season, and when you have things like that, people get afraid to make bold proposals," said Councilor G.T. Bynum.

10/17/2013 Related Story: Tulsa City Councilors Table Budget Cut Talks, Want More Info

City Finance Director Mike Kier said the numbers are adding up now to likely cuts in payroll, a continued hiring freeze, spending cuts, and possible layoffs.

City Councilor Jack Henderson asked Kier if it was possible to balance the budget without public safety cuts and Kier answered, "It would be difficult to do," without layoffs.

Payroll is 70 cents of every dollar spent at City Hall, and more than half of that is just police and fire.

"Fire and police is the two I single out, because those are the two that people are more concerned about, because public safety is a big issue and they want to be safe," Henderson said.

The budget squeeze comes as the fire department adds staff to make up for possible delays in EMSA's response.

10/31/2013 Related Story: Tulsa Fire Department Adding Staff To Fill Possible EMSA Response Gaps

Overtime will cost $60,000 a week, and EMSA will pay for part of it. The fire chief said, at this point, it's just a precaution.

"We felt like we've got to get a little bit more proactive and put these companies up, and so that's why we picked fire to put 10 people on each shift at least seven days and see the impact," said Fire Chief Ray Driskell.

The city is four months into a 12-month budget, so councilors think there's time, but Chairman Bynum said, as long as he's involved, public safety won't face layoffs.

"Police and fire layoffs is not on the table, that will not happen," Bynum said.

The Bartlett Administration said they fully agree with that. Police and Fire cuts, in particular, are off the table. They think there's lots of savings to be found elsewhere.

No one from the mayor's office attended the meeting Thursday, but they did issue a press release saying the mayor has initiated a number of shortfalls to ensure the city can meet the challenges of the shortfall.

Before public safety cuts will be considered, Mayor Bartlett said the following measures will be taken:

- Continue the hiring freeze and maintain a vacancy rate within departments so that overhead costs are kept down

- Reduce travel expenditures to only include mandatory training and continued education

- Continue to implement KPMG efficiency reforms

- Newly created second shift within the restructured Equipment Management Department will cut inefficiencies and costs and improve service. As a result of the new shift the city is in the process of closing the North Mingo maintenance facility and moving mechanics to the South Garnett maintenance facility.

- Evaluate and find new gain-sharing opportunities so that city crews have the ability to compete against and outperform private service companies for existing city service work

- Continue to sell off any unused city property for more productive use in the private sector