LEWISTON — A plan to trim city budgets by reorganizing departments could become a full-blown review of municipal philosophy, councilors said Tuesday.
The City Council came down in favor of reviewing city functions to decide which ones are critical. The most important functions would be saved. Those deemed less important, no matter how popular, could be cut.
It’s a difficult discussion to have, but necessary.
“We’re not at a crisis point at this time, but we’re close enough that we need to start planning,” Councilor Denis Theriault said.
Councilors pointed to a November ballot issue that seeks to reduce excise taxes. The city would have to cut $770,000 in the current fiscal year and another $1.6 million next year if voters approve the measure.
“We need to have something in place in case that passes,” Councilor Robert Reed said.
A plan presented to councilors in February called for reducing the number of departments and department heads from 14 to seven, saving an estimated $450,000.
Councilor Nelson Peters warned against cutting employees. He favors reducing staff through attrition – not replacing employees who quit or retire.
“I think we have a responsibility to our employees, as well,” he said. “We can’t just go into city hall or the police station or the fire station with our ax.”
Other councilors said attrition might be too slow.
“The fact is, if you wait to get to a certain staff level through attrition, because of cost-of-living increases, the city never sees any real savings,” Reed said. “We might be able to reduce some through attrition, but some jobs may have to be cut.”
Councilors directed city staff to begin drawing up a list of municipal functions that are required by federal or state law or by city charter. Next, they are to list functions deemed necessary to the safe running of the city. Finally, they are to list other city services that are simply popular.
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