Now that the big picture has been painted, Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom said the detailed brush work on the upcoming general operating budget can get under way. And that means department managers will start eyeballing potential cuts and consolidation efforts for their already depleted budgets.
The goal is to generate enough revenue and reduce enough expenses to erase a projected $27.4 million deficit — likely the largest operating shortfall the city has ever faced for a single fiscal year. The next question becomes: How will those changes change city services?
For instance, changes are coming to the Parks and Recreation budget — again, and a big question residents will have is, will the city’s swimming pools be open next summer?
“My answer has to honestly be, I don’t know yet,” said Sundstrom, who added that he has already been asked that question.
“The reason being is now we’re going to assemble a parks budget and they will assemble it now understanding the revenues that will be available to them and the staffing levels that they will have. I’m charging (City Parks Director) Jay Steffen and others to put together their best budget that does as much as they can, given their resources. And I’m not sure what that means for pools yet,” he added.
Sundstrom said he will talk with city commissioners over the next few months about those types of issues and have them chime-in as to what direction the parks and other budgets should take. Normally the operating budget goes to the commission in April for such talks, but Sundstrom plans to get those discussions going earlier this year.
One action that will likely be taken even earlier surrounds the city’s fleet of vehicles that are assigned to officials for their 24-hour use. Sundstrom recently finished reviewing those assignments and has proposed to reduce the current number from 106 to 82, which is a cut of 23 percent.
The city manager acknowledged that this is a highly controversial issue within the city’s ranks. He added that he will likely hear arguments that he hasn’t cut enough and that he has eliminated too many, and city services will be negatively affected as a result.
Sundstrom said he also expects to hear from union leaders about the reduction and isn’t sure his decision, which is to go into effect Feb. 1, would survive arbitration.
“The vehicles previously assigned to employees on a 24-hour basis will remain assigned to them during work hours. Additionally, any employee use of their personal vehicle for city work is reimbursed to the employee at the federal rate. This does not include travel to and from their homes,” he wrote in a memo to commissioners.
By far, the city police force has the most 24-hour vehicle assignments at 78. The fire department is next with eight, followed by the engineering department with five.
Next week, 109 city employees are targeted to be laid off.