Time is running out for members of the Lawrence Township Council to decide if the township administration should proceed with certain cost-cutting proposals – including layoffs – in order to balance the 2013 municipal budget.
During their meeting last week (Tuesday, Oct. 16) council members were advised by Township Manager Richard Krawczun that the question about layoffs was particularly pressing and a decision needs to be made in time for the next council meeting on Nov. 8 (a deviation from council’s normal meeting schedule because of the presidential election being held on Nov. 6).
Discussion of that looming deadline came after Krawczun told council that the administration was “still working on various budget matters” for 2013. As part of that update, he said contract negotiations were continuing between the township and the police officers’ union, and that the administration had had “a couple” meetings with the union representing the township’s emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to “discuss possible revenue improvements for the ambulance service.”
(The discussion begins at the 28:05 mark of meeting Audio Part 2, which can be found in the media box to the right.)
“In the past couple of meetings you’ve presented a number of options to council. I know that there’s got to be a hard-and-fast timeline of when you need some of our responses on those options?” Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis asked Krawczun.
Among the options thus far proposed (and summarized during the Sept. 18 council meeting) are reductions to the township’s workforce in addition to the layoffs that took place earlier this year, privatization of township services including police/911 dispatching and emergency medical response, and changes in how residential trash and “bulk items” are picked up.
“It was my hope that we could have some of that resolved much sooner and not wait for the 2013 budget process; that I could get some level of consensus from council by the next meeting,” Krawczun said in response to Lewis’ question.
“What’s important is, if there was to be a choice about a change in service and that change in service was to require something effective for January or the early part of the new year, there will be a lead time that we need to arrange for that amended service, whether it be a new fee, whether it be a reduced service, etc.,” he explained.
“Second, I’ve also pointed out it that it’s important if there are any decisions to reduce staff. Aside from the dispatch issue because we have to wait for the competitive contract proposal on that to see what the costs are, if there are any other decisions to reduce staff that has to be done certainly by the next meeting because each day or each meeting that we delay pushes back any termination date in 2013 that reduces the savings and actually increases the number of layoffs or personnel changes you would need,” Krawczun continued. “So there is a level of urgency – it’s not imminent, but urgent – to get some of that resolved…”
Earlier in the meeting, during public participation, several residents spoke about the 2013 municipal budget problem which, when last updated by Krawczun at the Sept. 18 council meeting, was about $725,000 over the state’s 2 percent tax levy cap.
Bearfort Way resident Judith Baranowski spoke against the possible privatization of police dispatching, saying she does not believe township officials’ assurances that public safety would not be endangered by replacing veteran township-employed dispatchers with new dispatchers working for a private contractor.
(Her comments to council begin at the 6:12 mark of meeting Audio Part 1 file.)
“I hope the town council and manager see their responsibility in this situation. Unfortunately, they are not the people who will see the consequences of their actions,” Baranowski said. “It will be the dispatchers when they are finding themselves on the unemployment line and the town residents whose safety will now be jeopardized regardless of what the police chief has to say.”
Mayor Jim Kownacki responded to Baranowski by saying the privatization of dispatching is not a certainty but rather just one of many options that council is considering as part of its effort to solve 2013’s budget woes.
“With the dispatch – it’s something we’re looking into. We’re looking at everything. We have not decided, whether it’s dispatch, whether its layoffs. This council is working hard to come up with an answer," the mayor said. “My manager, I stand by. He is doing a fantastic job for me and this council. He listens to us, he gets us the information, and we come back and we talk to him and decide how we’re going to handle everything. We’re not at the stage yet to make a decision on what’s happening.”
A few speakers later, Eileen Stokley of Tower Place also expressed concern about privatizing police dispatching services.
(Her comments can be found at the 24:40 mark of meeting Audio Part 1 file.)
“I know you’re looking at the issue of privatizing police dispatchers. That’s sort of, I think, one of the last places I would want to look to privatize,” Stokley said. “I feel if I have to call 911 and I’m dealing with someone over the phone, I would feel so much more comfortable knowing that this is somebody who is a local employee… I don’t care who’s removing my snow or picking up trash or picking up my leaves as long as they drive safely. But I have a lot of concern about privatizing what I think of as a core local government service.”
“Ma’am, I stated earlier, during the budget we’re looking at everything,” Kownacki answered. “Everything is back on the table. This council has not said, we only want to do this, or we want to do that. We haven’t told the manager this is what we want to do... We are not to the point to say what steps we’re actually taking. For me, there’s still more studying I have to do. So we’re not at that point. Dispatch is one of them. The police were one. It hurts to lay off police. We had to do that. It’s going to hurt to lay off, you know, other people in this building. We’re looking at everything. It’s not just the dispatchers.”
“The only way to discover the savings is to be able to put it out to bid,” Councilwoman Lewis said, referring to a resolution that council approved on Sept. 18 authorizing the township administration to seek out competitive bids dispatching. “We’re looking at all places that we can make cuts…. In order to see what the savings is you have to be able to see what it would actually cost to privatize.”
Krawczun later confirmed that the township was still in the process of drafting the specifications for privatized dispatching services and had not yet solicited proposals.
Darrah Lane resident Ed Wiznitzer then offered several cost-cutting suggestions, including switching residential trash pickup from once every week to once every two weeks, while offering residents the option of continuing weekly pickups for a fee.
He said he believes that, “contrary to what other people may think,” council and the administration have been doing a good job managing the township under difficult circumstances.
“I’ve gone through it [the 2012 municipal budget],” he said. “[People] want the town to take a haircut. This baby – your budget – has no hair to cut. [If] you cut, there is going to be bloodletting.”
(Wiznitzer’s comments can be found beginning at the 32:12 mark of meeting Audio Part 1.)
For Municipal Budget Background, See:
- Oct. 10: “Debate Resumes Over Public Comment at Twp. Council Meetings”
- Oct. 2: “2013 Municipal Budget Problem: What to Do?”
- Sept. 27: “Twp. Ratables Take $7.8 Million Hit from Tax Appeals”
- Sept. 26: “”
- Sept. 20: “Lawrence Council Considers Outside Bids for Emergency Dispatch”
- Sept. 11: “Contract Awarded After Revaluation Funding Approved”
- Sept. 11: “Compromise Being Eyed in Public Participation Debate”
- Sept. 7: “”
- Sept. 4: “2013 Budget Gap to Again be Discussed by Council”
- Aug. 29: “Public Participation Hot Topic at Twp. Council Meetings”
- Aug. 27: “Lawrence Twp. Says Goodbye to Four Police Officers”
- Aug. 23: “”
- Aug. 23: “”
- Aug. 20: “Lawrence Cops Seeking Transfers to New Department”
- Aug. 2: “Council Sends Out Appeal to Tax-Exempt Groups”
- July 20: “”
- July 18: “”
- June 21: “Cuts to Township Brush Collection Schedule Proposed”
- June 11: “Township to Seek 'Voluntary Contributions' from Tax-Exempt Organizations”
- May 24: ""
- May 24: "Letter to the Editor: 'Day of Reckoning' for Lawrence"
- May 18: “Letters to the Editor: Police Chief Should Retire”
- May 16: “Township Council Moves Forward With Layoff Plan”
- May 14: “Letter to the Editor: ‘Don’t Give Up the Ship”
- May 2: “Patch Readers: No Cuts to Police”
- May 2: “Township Council to Decide Budget Changes by May 15”
- April 25: “Balancing Lawrence Township’s Budget”
- April 20: “Help the Council Balance the Budget”
- April 20: “Council Gets an Earful in Wake of Referendum's Defeat”
- April 18: ""
- April 16: “Governor Weighs in on Municipal Tax Referendum”
- April 16: “Sample Ballot for Tuesday’s Election Contains Error”
- April 13: “Letter to the Editor: Resident Opposed to Tax Hike Urges Council to 'Go Back to Drawing Board'”
- April 12: “Municipal Tax Referendum Forum to be Held Tonight”
- April 11: “Letter to the Editor: Township Manager Explains 'Need' for Tax Referendum's Approval”
- April 10: "Letter to the Editor: Municipal Tax Referendum is 'Best Option to Preserve Services With the Least Cost'"
- April 2: "Residents Grill Township Officials on Tax Referendum"
- March 28: “”
- March 26: “”
- March 26: “Last Chance to Register to Vote for School Board & Tax Referendum”
- March 20: “Township Manager Answers Tax Referendum Questions”
- March 14: “Trash ‘User Fee’ Would Be Mandatory If Tax Referendum Is Voted Down”
- March 8: “Usage Rate for Sewer Bill to Increase 15 Percent”
- Feb. 23: “”
- Feb. 9: “”
- Jan. 18: “”