Roswell mayor calls for layoffs, cuts in parks spending

Roswell Mayor Jere Wood won't propose a city budget for months, but already he's promoting ideas likely to face resistance: laying off city employees and either cutting recreation programs or raising recreation user fees.

Last June the city approved a budget of about $107 million, about $1 million less than the year before. But Wood wants to trim more. Raising taxes is not an option, he said.

All departments except police and fire will be scrutinized for staff reductions, Wood said.

Last year the mayor proposed laying off 10 community development department workers. After negotiations with council, the city eliminated four positions in that department, a part-time job in the mayor’s office and a deputy fire chief’s position. Three full-time battalion commanders were hired for the fire department.

Later, 22 employees signed up for an early retirement program, but some who were department heads will be replaced. The city has about 583 employees.

City council members did not jump to support Wood.

"I'd like to see evidence of why we're going to do that," Nancy Diamond said. "I don't think anybody is sitting around twiddling their thumbs."

Jerry Orlans noted that the city had reduced staff and cut budgets already. "We've got to be careful not to detract from our services too much,"  he said.

Betty Price said she thinks Roswell has too many employees, but she hopes to reduce job positions. Employees whose positions are eliminated could be retrained.

“We need to be more resourceful with the people we have,” she said. “I think we can swing it by attrition because people come and go.”

Wood said he knows the recreation department is a "sacred cow" in Roswell, and his plan to eliminate programs or raise user fees will upset many residents.

“We won’t slaughter the cow," he said, "but we may have to pay a little more for the milk.”

Orlans said he wanted to hear recommendations from the recreation commission, which is appointed by council. He said some recreation programs need to become self-supporting.

Department director Joe Glover said fees now account for about $4 million of the department's $10 million budget. He's not sure what his marching orders will be when he prepares his department budget.

"We haven’t received any information about what is going on," he said.

Wood said the city council faces another major decision: whether to call for a bond referendum in November to pay for new capital projects.

Without one, the city probably would become debt-free in 2014 and might be able to reduce the millage rate, he said. If a referendum passed, the city could embark on new building projects.

“I don’t think politically it’s a very good year to go for a referendum, unless you have some good projects,” Wood said. “I haven’t seen the projects yet.”

Price and Diamond said they don’t know where they stand on the referendum yet. Orlans favors it.

"Interest rates have been so low I've been pushing for a bond referendum," he said.

He said a bond could help pay for big-ticket items, such as road and intersection improvements, a new fire station and artificial turf for recreation fields. A bond referendum would remain within the current millage rate for debt service, he said.

The next city budget must be approved by June 30. Wood said he hopes to bring it to a council vote in May.