By Andy Rathbun Herald Writer
MONROE — City administrators sat down with union leaders last week to talk about the growing budget problem.
The general fund, which pays for police, parks and other departments, could end the year $335,000 in the red based on new figures.
The two groups agreed to nip at that deficit by asking employees to voluntarily take time off and work occasional shifts in utility departments, which don’t rely on the general fund and aren’t facing a cash crunch.
Mayor Robert Zimmerman said he’s optimistic those efforts will solve the problem. If they don’t, however, mandatory furlough days could return.
“Is that an option?” he asked. “It’s certainly an option.”
Operations director Brad Feilberg teased out the numbers on furlough days last week. To offset the deficit solely through unpaid leave, all 81 general fund employees would need to take about 14 unpaid days off.
That situation may not happen, interim city administrator Gene Brazel said. Figures will need to be adjusted to factor in the current efforts, which, for example, could find finance workers occasionally handling clerical duties in the public works department.
The figures also will need to be readjusted if revenue continues to fall. The city continues to struggle with shrinking sales tax returns. The City Council has signed off on a couple short-term fixes proposed by the administration this year to briefly pull the city into the black. The budget has never stayed there for long, however.
It’s hard to tell if revenue will finally plateau or continue to drop, Feilberg said. He pointed to encouraging reports from economists about an uptick in retail sales.
“Whether that translates into increased sales tax revenue, it’s really hard to say,” he said.
Department heads also are reviewing their budgets, looking for purchases they can delay and other trims.
“That’s still in the works,” Feilberg said. “We’ve cut down training expenses. Making due with stuff, making it last longer — we’ve actually been doing that for years.”
Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455; email@example.com.