No Layoffs, No New Taxes, Golf Courses To Stay Open

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"Work harder, smarter and faster."

Those words from Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero are at the core of the budget plan he presented to the city council Monday.

"We avoided layoffs but that means the people still here will have to work harder," he said.

The city won't fill vacant jobs, 32 in all. That number doesn't reflect the 18 employees at the zoo, which is now run by the county.

Among the 32 eliminated positions: 10 in the finance department, four in parks and recreation and seven in the planning and development department.

The moves, which the mayor says avoided layoffs for roughly 10 employees, were made to trim the estimated $7 million city budget deficit.

The workers that remain won't have to co-pay for their insurance this year, although the mayor says that could happen later. The city will save about a million dollars under the proposed budget on prescription drugs for employees.

"Increasing the use of generics," the mayor explained.

Police and fire won't see cuts. The mayor has budgeted for four new community police officers.

And what about the city golf courses? The mayor's plan to close two of them became a point of contention in last year's negotiations.

"They're funded this year," Bernero said. "All we're saying is they have to break even."

If they don't, the mayor could look to close them starting summer 2008.

Most department budgets will be tightened or loosened, but most if not all will stay within 10 percent of curent funding levels.

Unlike in years past, the city council didn't get a chance to look at the budget until tonight.

"I'm going to have to scour for that," Councilmember Kathie Dunbar said in an interview after the mayor's budget announcement. She hadn't seen many of the details in the plan.

But Dunbar says given the deficit, leaving positions open might be the only option to avoid layoffs.

"They've been doing the job all year with the staff we have," she said.

Councilmember Carol Wood is waiting to see which staff positions won't be filled under the mayor's plan. She says she's worried that certain jobs left open could affect services given to residents.

"They expect us to do them," Wood said. "They're paying for those."

The council president, Harold Leeman, says he expects give-and-take between the council and the mayor on the budget. Still, he says he is confident the city will have a balanced budget as the process begins in earnest.

"It's a marathon now," Leeman said.

That marathon could last until the end of May, if last year's negotiations were any indication.

The council and the mayor have to finalize the budget before the new fiscal year begins in July.

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