7/30/08

AFSCME: Tap Rainy Day Fund for union salaries

'Go where the money is ... and go there often.' - Willie Sutton

Some people call it a rainy day fund. Others see it as a savings account. But for 22 employees affected by Naples’s work-force reduction plan, the city’s $15 million reserves could be their saving grace.

Local representatives for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union that represents about 200 city employees, announced on Tuesday a plan that could prevent more than a dozen employees from losing their jobs. The plan would tap into the city’s reserves to balance the fiscal 2009 budget, according to Irwin Scharfeld, a labor relations consultant for AFSCME Council 79, the local arm of the union. “The money is there,” Scharfeld said during a press conference Tuesday.

The union, which counts 14 people affected by the layoffs among its more than 200 members, requested a review of the city’s budget earlier this summer. The review, conducted by Mark Murphy, a fiscal policy analyst for the union in Washington, D.C., showed the unreserved general fund balance totaled $15 million, or about 45 percent of the city’s annual expenditures.

“The city is in good financial condition, with a large unreserved fund balance that allows it to weather the revenue impacts of an economic downturn,” Murphy said in a letter to the union’s regional director last week.

“Some jurisdictions within Florida have claimed a ‘financial urgency’ in order to renegotiate or impose new economic terms in their collective bargaining agreements. I would conclude, based on the information available, that Naples would not be justified in declaring a financial urgency.”

The city is predicting a more than $3 million shortfall in 2009. The work-force reduction — a net loss of 32 positions — would save the city $2.3 million. The rest of the shortfall would be made up through a slight tax increase, or by using $600,000 from the reserves to balance the budget.

“From our view using the reserves is not the way to resolve a budget deficit,” said Naples City Manager Bill Moss. “The reserves are the equivalent to a savings account ... if you use them, eventually there will be a day of reckoning.”

The money in an unreserved fund has no specified purpose and can be used for any number of things, such as one time expenditures or for disaster relief. The city used about $8 million from its reserves in the months following Hurricane Wilma, which made landfall in Collier County in 2005, Moss said.

But for the 22 employees likely affected by the layoffs, this is an emergency, Scharfeld said.

“That’s what a rainy day fund is for,” he said. “It’s raining in Naples.”

Tracy Brock was notified in June that her job as a community service aide in the police department may not be funded in the coming fiscal year. Brock, 39, makes about $60,000 a year, including benefits, with which she supports her two children and a grandchild.

“That was devastating,” she said. “This job has changed my life. It’s almost like (I am) going through the grieving process.”

Councilman Bill Willkomm, who attended the press conference Tuesday, said he expects the city will discuss alternatives to layoffs in the near future.

“They’re all of our friends,” Willkomm said.

Naples City Council is expected to discuss the budget on August 18 when council reconvenes from its two month break. Scharfeld said the union plans to present the plan to City Council during its next meeting.

(naplesnews.com)

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