City Council lifts hiring freeze

Published 7:30 am Tuesday, December 9, 2008

At the urging of interim City Manager June Fleming, the City Council voted unanimously Monday night to lift a hiring freeze approved in July.

In October, council members asked Fleming to cut $326,414 from the city’s budget as a result of the council’s decision to keep property taxes at the same level as last year. The tax rate decreased from 90 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 77 cents, but assessed values went up as a result of a biannual reassessment.

Council members suggested in October that the budget savings could be achieved by enforcing existing policies, like the hiring freeze on all but police, fire and other emergency personnel.

On Monday, Fleming told the council that her staff had worked hard to fulfill their request, creating a plan that would cut spending by approximately $410,000.

She highlighted the major items in the budget that were cut, including six unfilled jobs. Fleming also mentioned a reduction of spending in operating expenses for miscellaneous items like travel and mileage.

“The staff and I have worked tirelessly to include everything you wanted,” she said.

After the council approved the amended budget, Fleming warned them that the hiring freeze was creating problems with filling essential positions.

Using the example of a vacant sanitation worker’s slot, she urged officials to give her leeway to fill key positions that become vacant.

Fleming explained that the termination of one sanitation worker since the hiring freeze has put a strain on that department. The inability to hire could result in dire consequences for service, she said.

“I ask you to allow me to hire for that position; it is an essential position to be filled,” she said, noting there would be “drastic service-level reductions” otherwise.

She then detailed how the funds for such hires were built into her proposed budget. Fleming asserted that because the position was active before the hiring freeze, replacing the worker would “keep the integrity of the 77 cents.”

Fleming reminded officials that this could happen in any department and asked that the hiring freeze be lifted. She promised to only fill positions vacated as a result of termination or resignation, using her “discretion” in the matter.

After a short debate on whether insurance benefits would be considered a part of the budgetary constraints, the council approved Fleming’s request.

Fleming assured council members that she and her staff would be prudent in making future hiring decisions.

“We’ve learned how to be creative, think outside the box and do more with less. We look forward to the challenges ahead.”

See Wednesday’s print edition of The Tidewater News for more coverage of Monday’s City Council meeting.