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Last updated 11:24PM ET
April 17, 2014
St. Louis Public Radio News
St. Louis Public Radio News
City to make mid-year cuts to budget
(2010-11-16)
(St. Louis Public Radio) - A $10 million deficit in the current budget will force the city of St. Louis to make mid-year cuts.

Budget director Paul Payne told the aldermanic Ways and Means committee on Tuesday that the budget approved in July included revenue from admission fees to the city recreation centers and the privatization of EMS billing - two changes that were never made. And other income like court fines and the new trash fee is coming in lower than expected.

Payne said the city has already refinanced some bonds and will get some back payments from the water division.

"As in previous fiscal years, I'm going to be asking both the police department and the as well as the other city departments to revert funds that have been appropriated," he said. "From the police department that would be $2 million, and from the regular city departments it's $1.5 million."

The largest component of the gap is the fire department, which is on track to overspend by $3 million. Some of the reverted money is often shifted around to close gaps in other departments, but Ways and Means chairman Stephen Conway and other members sounded reluctant to do so for the fire department, which often overspends.

"Nobody should give them that extra $3 million," he said. "This isn't an emergency thing, they've known about it for a year. By state statute we have to pay certain employees, and we will pay that, but they have a responsibility to balance their budget."

Conway said he agreed with Payne that the department would not be able to close the gap without layoffs.

Jeff Rainford, the chief of staff to Mayor Francis Slay, said the administration is putting pressure on the department to reduce overtime costs. He plans to bring to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment on Wednesday a contract that would allow a private ambulance company to answer calls that occur during shift change, which would reduce overtime.

Rainford said those changes, plus normal attrition and retirement, would reduce the number of firefighters that would have to be cut. A federal grant would prevent layoffs entirely.

But Rainford said the administration is also focusing on the looming pension problem. Within the week, he said, he will unveil a proposal that would reduce retirement benefits for current firefighters. It's meant to keep current costs under control, giving the administration and the department time to work out a new plan for future hires.

Because changes to pension benefits require state approval, Rainford said, City Hall brought in mediators in an effort to secure support in Jefferson City.

"I don't know whether that will lead to legislation or not because the fireman's retirement system has taken the position that basically they believe they're vested after one second on the fire department so probably ultimately this will lead to litigation," Rainford said.

The firefighters have a proposal that would keep pension costs level for one year. A spokesman said he had not seen the specifics of Rainford's counter-offer.

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