Police, Fire, Grass, Streetlights Among City Cuts

From turning off street lights to putting off office cleaning, the city of Topeka is out with a list of cuts to trim the budget.

It's the city manager's response to what the city council mandated in the 2008 budget it approved. The Council adopted the 2008 budget with certain dictates to staff including cutting overtime by 10-percent, cutting contracts and commodities by 3.2-percent and cutting capital expenses and upgrades by $200,000.

One item was first reported last week - reducing callback overtime in the fire department by idling one or two engine companies when staffing drops below minimum levels, rather than calling people back in and paying extra to fill those holes.

That's not all. On a list released Monday, the city will turn off some street lights, including those on the Washburn-Lane corridor, and not turn on any new ones, for example, those on the new Topeka Boulevard bridge when it opens.

In addition, the city won't mow grass on properties cited with mowing violations; offices will be cleaned three days a week instead of five; and the police department is slated for more than $230,000 in cuts. Those include less money for drug buys, medical treatment for K9 units and interpreter fees.

The cuts in all areas total an anticipated savings of $750,000.

Topeka Police Chief Ron Miller says while it will involve belt-tightening, he thinks his department will be all right. He says budgets are built with contingencies, and they will make do what the council said must be done.

City Councilman Richard Harmon, who voted against the 2008 budget, says this list of cuts is what he feared. He says, while the city can live with a few weeds, he is most concerned about the impact on public safety. He says it's easy to get caught up in talk of mil levy and taxes when discussing a budget, and lose sight of the impact on the actual delivery of services.

City Councilman Jeff Preisner helped work out a deal on a budget with a minimal tax increase that was eventually approved by a one-vote margin. He says it's often thought that not raising taxes is the right thing to do, but he says that's not always the case.

Both expect the list of cuts to be up for discussion when the council meets with City Manager Norton Bonaparte next monday to talk about the 2009 budget.

The complete list of budget cuts is attached.