Holiday events in the city may be cut down and there may be less playground equipment next year.
City Council members spent more than an hour and a half hearing from various city department heads before Monday night's work session. Victoria James, director of youth services; Julia Ciesla-Hanley, recreation coordinator; Jeffrey Lehman, director of Public Works; and John Williams, parks manager; each spoke about their department's proposed budget.
Each department head pled their case to the board and explained their budget. Many have already seen cuts between their requested budgets and the executive budget proposed by Mayor Sam Teresi.
"The department heads are telling us they need more. The reality is, they're not going to get it," said Greg Rabb, D-At Large and council president.
"We sympathize with their concerns, because when you look at the budget lines, whether it's staff or equipment or capital investment, it's below what we need to do. But, there just isn't right now any money out there for us to put stuff back in."
Looking at various lines in each budget, council members had some discussion. The Parks Department requested $20,000 to improve playground fall zones. Williams and Lehman explained that the line item is necessary for playground safety, although the mayor did not grant any it any money.
Tony Dolce, R-Ward 2, made several suggestions, including removing some equipment and combining fall zone equipment the city does have in order to save money. Additionally, during the meeting, council members discussed costs for removing or tearing down various structures, such as the skating rink at Allen Park, rather than paying for maintenance.
"We're not going to start pulling all of the equipment out of the playgrounds," Lehman said. "I think the point was, we have a lot of older equipment in there. A lot of areas don't have the fall zones. And, what the council was saying was 'Why don't we start removing some, consolidating some, so that we can get the benefit of the same fall zone for different pieces of equipment?' And, that's what we're going to look at."
The council looked at items, such as various holiday events in the city to discuss what cuts could possibly be made. Events sponsored by the city include the annual city Easter egg hunt in Allen Park, the Halloween Fun Fest at Allen Park, the Labor Day Festival at Bergman Park, the Memorial Day parade, World Series of Cars and decorations for Christmas. The proposed budget does not include a $30,000 request for those programs.
Additionally, councilmembers discussed costs associated with the upkeep of various city-owned buildings.
"I think what you see on the part of the council is looking at cuts like we never have before, and maybe looking at fees that we charge organizations for the use of these facilities," Rabb said. "If you don't raise the fees that you charge to use these things, then you've got to raise the taxes on everybody. That doesn't seem fair to me. The people who use these facilities should pay for it."
Although Lehman has been through many budget seasons with the city, he told The Post-Journal he is not holding out much hope that many items in his budget will be restored.
"This is the tightest year since I've been here. We've had some lean years over the years, but I'm not real hopeful (that money will be restored). With the (tax) cap and where we're at right now in the budget, there's not a lot of wiggle room, that's for sure," Lehman said.
While there was a lot of discussion about the budget, Rabb said many of the ideas presented Monday, although not set in stone, were new.
"There have been some ideas floated tonight that I have not heard the other four years since I have been on council," Rabb said. "I think my colleagues understand this is serious, and we're going to have to make some tough decisions, even tougher than we have in the past."