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September 25, 2013

Layoffs eyed as city snags 'stressed' label

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — One Locks Plaza is getting braced for a day of reckoning.

On Wednesday, the state comptroller's office added the City of Lockport to its running list of fiscally stressed municipalities, in the "moderately" stressed category.

Auditors from the comptroller's office have been at City Hall since Monday, examining 2012 and 2013 financial records and inquiring about the 2014 city budget process, which has been conducted wholly out of public view, for the first time in at least 10 years.

In the still-unfinished preliminary budget, some key appropriation lines showing employees' salaries and fringe benefits remain blank as the Tucker Administration continues contract talks with the police and firefighters unions — whose members comprise half of the city workforce.

With its resolve to not raise the tax rate still rock-solid, the Common Council's consideration of layoffs to balance the 2014 budget finally went public Wednesday night, as President Anne McCaffrey called an executive session to discuss them.

No decisions were made about the number or types of possible job cuts, McCaffrey said afterward — but she noted that a preliminary 2014 budget "gap" of at least $1 million exists and at this point, on paper at least, the gap cannot be closed without some job cuts.

Contracted budget adviser John Schiavone, of the Lumsden & McCormick accounting firm, is going back to city department heads a third time to see what non-personnel-related spending they could live without, but any additional savings wrung from them will pretty much be a drop in the bucket, Mayor Michael Tucker suggested.

The budget line showing $80,000-plus in city spending on the annual summertime Labatt Canal Concert Series — a line that Tucker has defended fiercely the past few years — has been reduced to $0.

"We've been kicking the can down the road. Every year, we've found a one-time revenue or one-time savings, such as (privatizing) garbage. No more," Tucker said.

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