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Wichita council to consider layoffs of city employees

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, August 9, 2013, at 9:20 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, August 10, 2013, at 7:14 a.m.

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Layoffs are back in front of the Wichita City Council as it wraps up work on the 2014 operating budget.

Stung by continued softness in the Wichita economy, City Manager Robert Layton is once again seeking council approval to implement a small number of layoffs – 13 – in a “worst case scenario” if city revenue fails to meet expectations.

But absent a financial crisis, Layton is confident the city can absorb the 13 positions eliminated in the 2014 budget through transfers, not terminations.

Council members are expected to approve Tuesday the $543million operating budget for 2014, including the layoffs resolution, an annual request from Layton since he has been in Wichita. That budget eliminates a net of 13 city positions but does not immediately call for layoffs.

“It’s what we need the authority to do in the worst case,” Layton said, “but it’s not something we expect to have to do.”

For example, the city will eliminate six firefighter positions in the 2014 budget, but those firefighters will be given the chance to move laterally into firefighter vacancies at other stations.

“We have enough vacancies in the organization that we think we can absorb all of these people,” Layton said.

The city hasn’t laid off an employee since 2010, Layton said, although it has eliminated several grant-funded positions since then, including police positions.

Mayor Carl Brewer said the City Council will take a hard look at any proposed layoffs because city officials think the organization is as lean as it can be and still provide citizen-required services like emergency services and infrastructure maintenance.

“Before I’d agree to anything of that nature, I'd need specific details like positions, why we should make those reductions,” Brewer said.

“It’s easy to say just cut, cut, cut to make the dollars work, but we have made some investments and we have some important positions with direct impact on what the citizens say they want and need.”

The proposed 2014 budget increases contract street maintenance by $1million – with the promise of more street work outsourcing – while maintaining the city’s commitment to public safety and launching a new community engagement initiative. It was hamstrung, city officials say, by continued stagnation in the city’s residential property valuation, which has not recovered from the 2008 recession. It includes no property tax increases.

The budget also includes reallocation of city fire manpower and equipment, accounting for the elimination of the six firefighter positions. That includes the redeployment of equipment from Station 2 to Station 22, both in south Wichita. Station 38, in far east Wichita, will house a squad rather than an engine.

Later this year, council members will begin a goals-setting process targeting the eventual Wichita economic recovery.

“The question’s going to be, ‘What do we shore up when the revenues start back up?’” Layton said. “Parks, libraries, quality-of-life issues, or do we focus on shoring up police, fire and infrastructure?”

What’s unlikely to happen when the city’s valuation begins rising is a city hiring binge, Layton said.

“I don’t know that we’re ever going to be hiring, really,” he said. “I think if you talk to businessmen around town, they don’t know if they’ll ever be at numbers like they were.

“This might be the new normal.”

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bwilsoneagle.

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