Written by Tom Knighton
Want to see a leaner, meaner city of Albany? If so, you may find yourself liking city manager James Taylor’s five year plan as he described it to commissioners earlier today. In it, he outlines staff reductions, other cost cutting measures and economic development as important to rectifying the situation Albany finds itself in. Worried about additional tax increases as well? “I won’t be here next year asking for one,” he told commissioners regarding any potential tax increases.
The plan is bold, calling for a personnel reduction of 60 people. Rather than laying anyone off, Taylor hopes to reach that number through early retirement and not back filling positions. “I’m not talking about laying 60 people off tomorrow,” Taylor told press after the commission meeting.
In his plan, Taylor indicated three possible ways to make up budgetary shortfall, which was reportedly $7 million last year. One is to increase revenue, which would require at least some additional tax increases. Another is to reduce operating costs. The third is to do both.
Taylor attributed much of the shortfall to the economic downturn, but also pointed to a shrinking tax base. In particular, Taylor singled out Phoebe Putney and its aquisition of property, which then pulls many properties off of the tax roles. Taylor also cited increased spending as staff has increased at the Albany Police Department and the code enforcement office, as well as costs associated with the “gateway projects” (also known as the welcome signs).
The plan calls for addressing non-compliance with the division of labor, as well as fragmented management issues. Taylor bluntly pointed to the commission’s failure to assess the long-term impact of their decisions. One example are alleys, which are part of the subdivision policy in Albany. “I know you love them,” Taylor said, but followed with, “but you can’t have them.” Taylor argued that alleys increase road maintenance costs, and is a luxury that the city can’t afford.
Cost reduction is key to the plan, since Taylor said he would “go fishing” if an additional millage increase is needed. Taylor calls for a reduction of the property the city owns which includes parks but also FEMA properties from the flooding in the 1990′s as well as a reduction in Recreation Department programs. He also wants to look at reducing fuel consumption through things like using compressed natural gas vehicles, as well as equipment that will monitor and even shut off idling vehicles. In addition, Taylor would like the city to look at out-sourcing options.
However, the five year plan will also need revenue increases. Taylor made his intentions to not raise taxes very clear though the meeting, but offered up other ways to increase revenue through things like commercial growth, strengthening the tax digest by putting in infrastructure that will allow greater development, and a review of the fee and rate structures. “We’re not turning down any opportunity that can generate revenue,” Taylor told commissioners.