By Jay Mejia
No olive branch passed between the City of Lee’s Summit executives and the City Council Budget Committee during Wednesday night’s specially called public hearing. Debate continued over personnel services expenditures for the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget.
Instead, an additional meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 12. City officials and council committee members continue to seek ways to come to agreement to reduce the budget and forge a final proposal that will be brought before the full city council June 5. The public is encouraged to attend both meetings.
The total budget proposed by the city is about $184 million. The projected $1.8 million deficit is the largest in the city’s history.
During Wednesday’s public session, City executives and elected officials sparred over several key issues, mainly expenditures on employee headcount.
At issue is the number of personnel forecasted to hire in fiscal year 2015, specifically the definition of an employee headcount versus full-time equivalent (FTE) employee hours to be included in the budget.
City Manager Stephen Arbo detailed the city’s proposal to include 2,080 hours per year for each non-firefighter employee, requesting a total of 669 full-time city employees for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1. The full tally would be 1056 employees or 772 FTEs, which breaks down to 669 full-time employees and 387 part-time employees to be on the city payroll and compensated during the coming fiscal year.
Budget Committee Chairman Bob Johnson took umbrage at the metrics and how the city counts employees and employee hours.
"We’re wasting too much time on definitions," Johnson said. "We need to figure out the final number of full-time employees. We never hire to the amount we budget for. We need to stop over-budgeting for employees that never get hired."
Johnson said he would prefer trimming the number of full-time employees by ten to 659 full-timers for a savings of roughly $500,000. He said his concern is that the city historically never reaches the full budgeted amount of personnel and in recent years returns $800,000 to $1 million to the annual budget.
"Why do we play this game to budget six to ten additional people that we never hire?" he asked Arbo. "This is really not rocket science. We need to treat and run city government just like a business."
Arbo explained the need to build a three-percent vacancy savings rate or $800,000 because the hiring process is always in flux as city employees retire or leave the city’s workforce for positions elsewhere.
"We’re never at full capacity," Arbo said. "That’s how we helped balance the budget last year. We spread a three-percent reduction across the city not knowing where the three percent will be saved. We budget $800,000 in personnel saving because it’s not possible to have all employees fully hired year-round."
"We need to be careful before we start reducing employees too much," cautioned Mayor Pro Tem Allan Gray, who also sits on the budget committee. "I’m still not clear what does it take to for us to continue to provide the level of services we need and how many employees does that equate to."
Councilmember Dave Mosby said he wanted to know how a reduction in employees would possibly increase overtime pay for remaining workers tasked with filling additional duties and the net impact on budget expenditures.
Mosby expressed concern that any reduction in headcount might be sacrificing the city’s ability to get things done. Regarding a balanced budget, he drew an analogy of filing annual personal income taxes.
"I try to hit zero," Mosby said. "I don’t way to pay them. I don’t want pay too much. I don’t want a refund."
Asked by the Lee’s Summit Tribune after the meeting whether Johnson’s views represented other members of the council, Councilmember Rob Binney, who also sits on the budget committee, replied with a smile: "Councilmember Johnson has a unique position all his own."