Members of the Greensboro City Council immediately questioned some of the budget cuts proposed by staff at its Tuesday, May 5 virtual meeting, but, facing an $8 million deficit in the general fund alone, cuts will have to be made.
The current City Council has added departments, programs and new services. A good economy has allowed it to do so with the help of two tax increases during the past three fiscal years. City Manager David Parrish described this budget year as “tough and unusual,” and it will be both for him because the city is required by law to balance its budget every year and for 2020-2021 that is going to mean either a major tax increase or reduced spending.
Since 2021 is an election year, a major tax increase seems unlikely, which leaves reducing expenditures.
But the staff’s proposed budget cuts, which equaled $5.6 million when $7.8 million in is needed, met with immediate resistance.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said she didn’t like the idea of reducing street lighting expenses by $500,000. She said, “A lot of people in neighborhoods have requested additional lighting.” She added, “It has an impact on public safety as well.”
Councilmember Sharon Hightower questioned eliminating a $175,000 study on street condition, stating that the streets were already in bad shape.
Hightower also objected to the employees receiving an “across the board 2 percent raise” while the police and fire departments had a step program for salaries that would result in more than a 2 percent raise in those departments.
Hightower asked if the step program could be eliminated and Assistant City Manager Larry Davis said that it could be.
Councilmember Tammi Thurm went in the other direction and asked that the step program for all employees be considered, but added “we probably can’t do it this year.”
Vaughan said that she agreed with preserving the “entire workforce and still giving some kind of raise.”
She said, “The focus was not to have layoffs.”
One area that Parrish appeared to get agreement on is that the city cannot afford to continue to fund nonprofits at the level it has in the past.
He said, “We will not have near the level of support for our community partners this year that we have had traditionally.”
Vaughan suggested that a letter go out to all the nonprofits that applied for funding last year to inform them that the level of funding for nonprofits was being cut.
However, if the past is any indication of the future, when the City Council goes over the budget the nonprofits will creep back in. It is usually the only area of the half billion dollar budget that gets intense scrutiny from the City Council and in the past the funding for nonprofits has been the topic the City Council has spent the most time on in its budget discussions.
This year, however being both “tough and unusual” could be different.