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Why Cutting Workers Back to 32 Hours is Unacceptable

City workers are right to be upset over the upcoming work-week reduction to 32 hours when the Administration refuses to curtail discretionary purchases.

On the Consent Agenda for the January 17, 2012 City Council Meeting, there are two such items which serve as good examples of expenditures the city does not need to make: item 1D, authorizing the potential expenditure of $44,000 (minimum cost: $0) to meet the city’s grant match requirements to purchase a new street sweeper, and item 1E authorizing a potential expenditure of $84,000 (minimum cost $40,000) to add turn lanes in two places along 15 Mile Road.

I’m sure the existing city street sweeper, a 1997 model, is dilapidated, less fuel efficient than current models, and likely nearing the end of its life.  Some will say that foregoing a grant of $220,000 for the sake of possibly saving $44,000 to get a needed piece of expensive equipment is penny wise and pound foolish.  But the fact remains: the city is going broke, and a street sweeper replacement is a discretionary, rather than a necessary purchase.   $44,000 pays most of the salary for the guy who will drive that street sweeper.  Maybe we should ask him what he would prefer: a new street sweeper to drive, or a 20% pay cut?  I think the answer is pretty obvious.

Similarly, I’m sure that it might be useful to add right-turn-only lanes to westbound 15 Mile Road at Dodge Park and eastbound 15 Mile Road at Maple Lane.  Today, however, traffic flows just fine in both places, and neither place has ever had dedicated turn lanes.  Both of the secondary roads, Dodge Park and Maple Lane, are and should be of secondary importance when the city is going broke.   I’m quite sure the city workers who travel westbound 15 Mile Road to Dodge Park to reach their jobs at Dodge Park and Utica would rather have a 5-day work week instead of a fractionally shorter commute on a 4-day work week.  Once again, this expenditure is discretionary.

Looking further in today’s consent agenda, item 1F authorizes the purchase of 18 30-minute SCBA Air Cylinders in order to replace 6% of the Fire Department’s 280 air cylinders at a projected cost of $11,250.  Given that there are only 100 firefighters on the job, we can easily forego spending that eleven grand and remain at an inventory 94% the size of today’s.  Just exactly how often are there so many fires in a given week that the difference of 18 tanks would curtail adequate Fire Department response?  Where is the sense in cutting back the workweek of several workers when we could easily just not spend the $11,250?  What would the firefighters prefer, 6% fewer SCBA air tanks with a more than adequate number still in reserve, or pay cuts for their union brothers and sisters?

With the city in a clear fiscal crisis, we obviously need to forego some expenses, even if the expenses might be for things deemed to be fairly important.  Somehow, we find ourselves in crisis mode, yet the City Administration fails to adjust its spending accordingly.

It’s high time for the City Administration to get serious about cutting back on discretionary spending.  If they won’t, it’s time for City Council to see to it that either the policies get changed, or the administrators.