Fung to Present Budget Tomorrow Night

The Projo reports that Fung’s budget will be presented at tomorrow night’s City Council meeting, and it won’t be pretty — with proposed layoffs in the police department and possibly “two dozen” other layoffs in the city. We all hoped it wouldn’t come to this, and yet here we are. From the Projo:

…Even with the city standing to lose some $5 million in state aid this fiscal year, Muksian-Schutt said many of the layoffs could be avoided if the council approves the police contract.

She said that by tabling it, the council’s Finance Committee sent a message that it would not act on Fung’s efforts to negotiate contracts or gain concessions from the police or with other unions.

“It stopped all concession talks, because the council made it very clear that they’re not moving on anything,” she said.

Our Council is questioning whether this is the best deal we can get, and that’s what they are supposed to do. But it perplexes me why this level of questioning didn’t come up when the previous teacher’s contract was at stake, or the last firefighter’s contract, or the last laborer’s contract. Is it because we are in worse financial straits now, and the council members have a deeper understanding of just how bad it is and how hard they have to work to get the best deal? Or are there other reasons, such as not wanting Fung’s agenda to move forward too fast because that would be giving him power, and the council is not ready to cede this much power to a new mayor? Is Fung moving too fast? Is there reason to suspect that, because the police union supported him in the election, this contract should be treated with extra skepticism?

I just ask the questions. I don’t know the answers. My hope is we can solve this with civility and compassion.

I also hope there is good news in the Mayor’s budget proposal for the schools. Last week’s negotiated settlement with the schools that fell apart at the last minute was a disappointment. This week will hopefully bring back that sense of cooperation that seemed to be developing before everyting fell apart.


34 thoughts on “Fung to Present Budget Tomorrow Night

  1. If I was on the City Council, I’d question why they are resorting to layoffs instead of implementing furloughs or 4 day work weeks? Even if you lay someone off, you don’t get 100% savings with that worker gone. You may only see a 35 – 40% savings. Why not be creative and explore other avenues?

    Or is this just political theatre?

  2. Don:

    The political theater here is Fung’s absolute insistence on having his police contract proposal rubber-stamped by the City Council.

    Also, if his goal is to secure Council approval of future contracts (which I do not believe is in any danger, despite Robin Muksian-Schutt’s posturing), shouldn’t he be trying to iron out the disagreements with the Council on the police pact?

    I don’t think fighting for a Mayor’s absolute power to negotiate whatever he wants in a contract is a politically smart move. I also don’t think that’s how the Charter is written.

    The Council has every right to review contracts before approving them, and they’re doing their job. This M-S talking point that “the council made it very clear that they’re not moving on anything” is spin masquerading as justification for Fung’s resistance to agreement with the Council.

    And M-S’s claim — that the city could somehow survive a $5 million cut in state aid if only Fung could have his flawed police contract approved — is patently false, not to mention contradicted by the numbers. Although there could be more to this — see below.

    Fung may be getting his words in the news, but it’s not doing anything as far as getting the police contract OK’d, and it will only hurt him more down the road as he has other contract to negotiate.

    On a different but related note, I found this passage from the ProJo to be even more newsworthy than Fung’s stance:

    “Lanni said the contract would allow the union to back out if the state provides more state aid than is expected. And he noted that Cranston, unlike some cities and towns, has a healthy surplus fund of nearly $20 million.”

    First, any contract that allows the union to unilaterally void it — for whatever reason — is potentially disastrous.

    Second, Lanni is clearly signaling that he’d prefer use of the surplus over layoffs — the Council would have had this power if Question 10 from last year’s ballot had passed. It didn’t, though, so additional appropriations still have to be submitted by the Mayor first.

    (Hmmm… Is this what M-S meant about surviving the $5 million state aid cut if the police contract were approved? Is Fung trying to cut a deal with the Council, i.e., approve the contract and I’ll tap the surplus?)

  3. Don,
    “Creativity” ?? I think that “creativity” is one of the 7 words that you can’t say in City Hall. As you suggest furlough days and 4 day work weeks would save our city money and also protect the jobs of roughly 40 (Fox Providence stated that figure in their 10:00 broadcast)city employees. A suspension/adjustment of the minimum staffing requirements and a reduction in overtime hours permitted would also help. An adjustment of the min. staffing requirements would be needed if furlough days/4 day work weeks were to be utilized. Contract language pertaining to minimum staffing requirements would also need to be amended if Fung’s worst case scenario/doomsday projection–12 police officers receiving pink slips–was to become our new reality.
    Your closing statement,question actually, ran through my head too as I read the Sunday ProJo piece. “Play nice and I’ll tap the rainy day fund”, ok? In my opinion the City Council needs to be represented at any and all negotiations between our city and it’s major labor unions. I realize that in the past the mere mention of tapping into the “rainy day fund” could be considered political suicide, but these are the rainiest days I can recall. I feel that Mayor Fung missed a golden opportunity to negotiate these concessions from a position of strength— using the rainy day fund as leverage, if you will, concessions could have been secured from our city’s unions, without the wholesale layoffs and made-for -television drama.

  4. In his budget presentation tonight, the Mayor suggested using the Rainy Day Fund to cover the $7.4 million deficit for this year to avoid a supplemental tax increase (aside, the city has $17 million in the fund, not $20 million as quoted in the ProJo). Of course, he used the police contract as leverage, saying that the hit against the fund would be less if the council approves the contract.

    Tax increase of 5.47% for next year, if the G.A. allows the city to go above the 4.75% cap (they think they can get a waiver due to the decrease in state aid).

    Also, Budlong Pool will open at reduced hours. He is a miracle worker.

  5. I should clarify the tax increase. It is 5.47% over the total levy. With the reval, and the rate adjustment, I believe he said it would be $19.10 per $1000. He used an example of a median priced house in Cranston, $202,000. It would mean an annual increase of $156.

  6. Full Disclosure: I’m a Fung supporter.

    With that out of the way, the crowd applauded Fung last night after he gave his presentation. This is going to be one difficult year and unlike previous eras where our economy was humming along and we had revenues to count on, economists are still trying figure our when we’re going to hit rock bottom.

    With respect to the police contract, Kiersten hits the nail on the head, where the heck was the Council’s desire to review the contracts in previous talks? Why were they so willing to rubberstamp contracts that Fung’s administration is now saying is costing the city thousands of dollars?

    It’s all political and you don’t need to be a Rhodes Scholar to figure that out. The Mayor negotiated a contract and the union agreed to it. If the Council thinks they can get more they certainly can try but if they can’t, they need to move on this and not merely stall because it’ll make Fung look like he’s got power.

    Come on! Party politics need to take a back seat right now as we’re facing an unparalleled fiscal crisis. I’m very curious to see what happens on April 2nd.

  7. Kiersten,
    I am sure that your last post will prompt the legion of Fung/Laffey supporters to
    point their collective fingers at the last administration; “It was Napolitano’s “tax freeze” budget/election year trick” that put our city squarely behind the 8-ball”…
    It makes one more than a bit uneasy to hear Fung’s campaign rhetoric ringing so hollow after just 3 months in office. Visit “candidate” Fung’s Forward with Fung website and under the heading “Vision for Cranston” you will find the following passages and I quote:” Because the Mayor refuses to make real changes in how we operate, he will either raise taxes or spend substantially more of the Rainy Day Fund when the bills come due after the election. My friends, our City’s future is in jeopardy as this Mayor makes decisions based on his own selfish political ambitions.” …”The Mayor’s need to spend has reached the point where he has put his hands in our savings account, our Rainy Day Fund.” Obviously these words were used to attack then likely candidate Napolitano, but ironically they can now be applied to any case to be made against our current Mayor.

  8. As far as the rainy day fund…I think it’s pouring!

    But that only goes as far as the fact that meaningful changes must be made before you can raid it. Changes that must follow the Charter and rule of law.

    The Schools have made no attempt to change their way of doing business and just look to raid the taxpayers instead of cutting salaries, benefits and positions.

    The reality is that in this economy everyone must sacrifice for the services we enjoy but stop trying to make political points from it and make meaningful changes that will last beyond this crisis and enable us to avoid future crises.

  9. Kiersten:

    Fung’s pledge not to “raid the rainy day fund” was a key talking point for him in ’06, as you’ll remember. The fact that he kept it as a major campaign pledge last year shows that he is a.) unable or b.) unwilling to recognize a changing situation (the tanking economy and continued cuts in state aid) and adjust his rhetoric and behavior.

    Now he finds himself, as Richard correctly points out, reneging on a central campaign promise — and in fact, it turns out that he’s proposing to use more of the surplus than Nap ever did, on top of a big tax increase and layoffs.

    On the question of Council oversight of the contract, I’d only suggest that Nap (and Laffey before him) never proposed the kind of radical, rights-yielding changes that Fung wants to see in the police contract.

    And when you consider that, as John Lanni has argued, Fung’s “savings” are too speculative to be trusted (as opposed to real, provable medical co-pays that were secured in past negotiations), it’s quite understandable that the Council would want to slow down the process and try to get a better contract.

    I just had to post this link to the abc6 report from last night:

    The contrast could not be any more stark.

    On the one hand, we have John Lanni stating: “I am not going to rubber-stamp a bad contract, period.”
    On the other, we have Fung responding to Paul Mueller’s vacuous comments by saying the Council “have their head (sic) buried in the sand.”

    (Mueller was just terrible, by the way — “The taxpayers can see through that. That’s what I’ve heard on the streets.” Where did he get this question from, Fox News?!)

    In any case, if Fung’s strategy is to turn this issue into a game of “Who cares more for the taxpayers,” he’s losing.

    I mean, Fung is trying to get a contract passed that does not secure permanent savings and gives away management rights while (allegedly) saving $400,000 in a year that the city is facing a $7 million deficit — then browbeating the Council when they don’t do his bidding.

    On the other side, Lanni is calling the Fung’s proposal what it is — a bad contract — and saying that he and the Council want to see real, permanent savings that really amount to something and preserve the city’s rights.

  10. … And if I could just add a few words on the failed school negotiations, I think it is yet another in a long line of examples of how the school board insists on serving its own selfish motives over helping the city.

    Here they are, turning down a chance to relieve the school department of a $1 million payment to the city for the long-shot chance that they could be “awarded” the entire $4.6 million that they overspent last year.

    I’m glad to see that Mike Traficante was in favor of this resolution, at least. Unfortunately, his sense of agreement foundered on the shoals of the militancy of the rest of the committee.

    I also find cold irony in the fact that Kevin McAllister — himself a former City Council President — is making a paycheck off the school committee’s resistance to settling this dispute.

  11. Kiersten, what’s the alternative to not using the Rainy Day Fund?

    Admittedly, I was unaware Fung pledged never to use these funds under any circumstances. I know he touted his record of replenishing these funds but I didn’t know he stated he wouldn’t use them.

    And perhaps more to the point, what’s the alternative to meeting the deficits outlined by Fung. Some say the atmosphere he described is too bleak, but I’d really like to see someone make an honest attempt at that given our economic climate.

    Jesse, the council doesn’t need to rubber stamp the contract, a vote would be nice though.

  12. don:

    I think the critical point here is that the Council is willing to vote for a better contract proposal. That’s the real message they’re trying to send by tabling the issue — Fung seems too hung up on grandstanding to recognize this.

    I haven’t read or heard anyone on the Council say that they plan to reject a contract negotiated by Fung — just that they want a better proposal to approve.

    For whatever reason, Fung is ignoring the nuance of this approach. In effect, he has given up on working with the Council three months into his term. Even worse, he’s blaming the Council for his lack of effort — not exactly an admirable approach.

    There’s a quote from Paul Valeltta in a ProJo article that suggests this, too:

    ‘Valletta said the firefighters have agreed to concessions that would save more than any layoffs and questioned Fung’s stance that the council’s tabling of the police contract stopped him from talking with other unions.

    “You don’t bargain based on what another bargaining unit is doing,” he said.’

    Article is here:

    What’s left, then, is a clear attempt to score political points in the midst of a crisis situation (remind you of someone?) instead of solving the problem.

  13. I don’t believe Mayor Fung ever said that he wouldn’t touch the Rainy Day Fund, but rather it would only be used for emergencies.

    If a $7.4 Million hole in the current budget isn’t an emergency, then what is?

    The Governor’s cuts to local aid are a big part of the problem, but it’s disingenuous to ignore the other part – a bad budget passed by last year’s Council.

    Last year’s Council overstated revenues, understated expenses and may have even added the $1.5 Million line item for union concessions that no one bothered to pursue.

    Presto! Soft contracts were ratified and spending increased yet no tax hike or tapping of the rainy day fund.

    Did I mention that it was an election year?

    So Mayor Fung proposes a tough, pragmatic budget to get us out of the mess that he had nothing to do with and he’s the bad guy?

    Political games indeed.

    1. Despite my earlier provocation, I accept the notion that desperate times call for desperate measures and now may be the time that we need to use some of our cash reserves, but I question whether using 42% of them at once is a good plan. James Howard Kunstler has written a novel about the possible fallout from our oil dependent culture called “The Long Emergency” and while I don’t subscribe to his extreme gloom and doominess, I do believe that we are headed into a time of “long emergency” in that the recovery will take years. If we cut our rainy day fund in half, what will be left for next year’s emergency circumstances, should we be in the same or worse condition 12 months from now? Also, do we know how the bond rating agencies will respond to such a sudden depletion of our reserves?

  14. Building on what Jesse said above, the Council tabling the police contract doesn’t hinder the Mayor from negotiating with other unions. In fact, I’d argue it gives him the proverbial club to beat them with. He could now approach them and say, “Look what the Council did with the police contract, you need to give me concessions that mean something or I won’t even bother presenting it to them.”

  15. Keep in mind that using the “rainy day fund ” will be a one time fix. What will happen next year and the year after when a new Mayor says the previous Mayor did something incorrect to that budget?

    Also, the budget was passed by the council last year but let’s remember, it was not as presented. For you people who have no clue, the budget is presented to the council. The council makes changes as they see fit,(like to pay back favors or to keep people someone may not want to get rid of) and then they vote on it. The Mayor can veto it but good luck with that.Once the veto is over ridden by the council, that is the accepted budget and that’s what is used, not what The Mayor presents so the pressure is on the council and The Mayor can blame them for anything that goes wrong with the budget.

    When he knocks on doors, he can honestly say, I tried but the council rejected it.

  16. Kiersten:

    If the past is any guide, the bond rating agencies will lower the city’s standing because of the depletion of the surplus.

    You may recall that Nap’s big message during the ’06 campaign was that some of the surplus could be used without harming the bond rating — and also that Fung skewered him for this stance.

    Did Fung say anything about the bond rating in his budget presentation? I’d like to know.

  17. old bull:

    You must not be a longtime reader of this blog, or else you’d have read my fairly tepid opinion of Nap’s management since even before his term began.

    And I wouldn’t agree that Mr. Garabedian “can do no wrong,” although I’d like to know what you think he did incorrectly. I happen to think he always had the best interests of the whole city in mind — like when he opposed the last police contract — over making people happy with him.

  18. Jesse, you said:

    “I think the critical point here is that the Council is willing to vote for a better contract proposal. That’s the real message they’re trying to send by tabling the issue — Fung seems too hung up on grandstanding to recognize this.”

    This seems very odd. If the Council is trying to tell Fung to negotiate a better contract, they can do so by voting down the contract he negotiated in good faith with the union. That pretty much will send the message loud, clear, and abundantly transparent to any vote who wishes to evaluate their councilmember’s position on the issue.

    Heck, didn’t the mayor ask for the council to table a contract Nap negotiated because he thought he could negotiate a better one? They didn’t table that issue did they?

    As for not being able to negotiate with other unions in good faith, I’m on the fence on this one. On the one hand if I was a union boss I would think that the mayor has no juice if he can’t even get his council to vote on the contract.

    On the other hand, perhaps the Mayor should ignore the Council’s seemingly obvious political posturing and continue to negotiate with other unions.

    I think it’s a tough call either way.

  19. Now that the city will be getting $2,086,520 in local aid from the state, will that mean less layoffs, or less money taken from the rainy day fund?

  20. You guys are missing the point. The police department gave up true concessions. Some people say they should give up more. Don’t forget 7 years ago when the city went bankrupt who stepped up? The police did. They agreed to a $10,000 cut in the starting pay which brought it down to $29,500. The starting pay is now 37,500. Look at that figure, subtract the $500+ dollars that get taken out of their paychecks for so- called state pension a month, the $130 a month aid for medical coverage your down to around $613 a week before taxes. After taxes around $425 a week take home. Now do you think thats enough money to put your life on the line and deal with people day to day BS. I don’t.

    Yes they Officers did know what they where signing on for. Job security(which no longer exists) good benefits(which are slowly going away) and actually wanting to help people. No Officer takes this job to become rich, but having enough money to pay bills and support their families would be nice.

    One of the problems is the council wants Officers to pay 20% of the medical. 20% of what figure, no one has a exact figure. 15% is more then any other municipality pays for medical. Why not raise the teachers medical to cover some of the cost, They only pay 4.5%. Oh yeah thats right some of the councilmens wives are teachers. I applaud Fung for standing up to these misinformed councilmen. Navarro should stick to selling trucks cause he is obviously just a salesmen

  21. Dear Officer Angry Cranston Citizen,

    Your figures are so far off they are not even worth justifying……………

  22. Anyone attend last nights meeting? I damn near swallowed my tongue when the President of the firefighters union stated it was more costly to lay someone off, than keep them on the payroll. It appears that Mr. Valetta throws out numbers and some of them you just can’t trust. Mr. Valetta inferred that there is an agreement regarding concessions. There is NO agreement between the city and the firefighters union as he alleged last night. The city was in serious concession discussions with them and making some head way but it was no a lock as Mr. Valletta led the Council to believe.

    Similar to any private sector layoffs, the city would have to pay unemployment to those firefighters or any other city employees that are laid off. The city would also have to pay them for any severance that they have built up (e.g., unused sick and vacation time, etc.). However, it appears to be deceiving was that Mr. Valletta implied that these are continuing costs. They are not. Like any layoff, the employer takes a hit in the short term with the severance and unemployment costs, but it doesn’t continue indefinitely. The savings for the city comes from not having these employees in the future. The city would not carry any salary, benefit and pension accrual costs.

    What Mr. Valletta said about overtime is somewhat correct. Unlike other city departments, firefighter departments through out RI have a “minimum staffing” clause in their contract. Cranston’s contract requires a staffing of 41 firefighters per shift. This is where the overtime kicks in. Mr. Valetta argued that with less firefighters there is a smaller pool to fill those 41 positions per shift. However, we must take into consideration that laying off 9 active firefighters and maintaining the 11 current vacancies would bring the total firefighter compliment to 181 from 201. If they can’t work with 181, then there is something wrong and they are probably playing games to get overtime.

  23. Ghost,
    Not to nitpick, but perhaps it is worth noting that IF the city is going to “save” $400,000 with the police layoffs THIS fiscal year(basically over the next few months)–most of that “savings” will be marginalized by, as you pointed out–unemployment/sick leave/vacation, etc… Which would change the projections that have been thrown out there by the Fung administration. Correct?

  24. AMO123, any time you would like to see my paycheck just let me know. I would be interested to know what figures you think are wrong. Police pay is public record and can be found on the police website. Oh I stand corrected it’s $528 a month towards state pension. I just looked at my check.

  25. Angry Cranston Citizen,

    In regards to the pay cut 7 years ago, I’ll assume the police union received something in return. If so, do you know what that was?

  26. Angry Cranston Citizen,

    I pegged you as a Police officer. Thank you for serving and protecting, and I truly appreciate what you and the Firefighters do for the taxpayers of Cranston. I would not want your job.

    The only issues I have with both contracts is why do you think you guys deserve 32% pay on holidays “that you don’t work”? That is in both contracts. If you can justify that to me without saying your job is dangerous or that in 1999 you gave up salary to be at 29,500. We both know you guys are back where you really should be. Laffey brought you back after he kicked the crap out of Garabedian in the 2002 mayoral election.

    This contract that Fung brought to the council has the same holiday pay and for 3 holidays you gave up, you get 32 hours comp time, for each holiday you gave up. Tell me where that is good for Cranston.

  27. AMO123 an Officer is expectd to be an Officer 24hrs a day 365 days a year. If you as a citizen are out somewhere and a crime is being committed against you and I am not working, I am still expected to prevent this crime from occuring, whether on the clock or not. I am also held accountable for my actions on the clock or not and stand the chance of loosing my job for something I did in my own time while not working

    At any given time my phone can ring and I might have to go to work, yes this doesn’t happen often but it can. Crime does not know holidays. Being part of a specialized team, Dive team, SRT are on call 24hrs. a day.Which is not paid time and you do not receive any extra money in your bi-weekly check for being on these teams

    By the way we are still not at where we should be, still about $2000 a year less then we where 7 years ago.

    The police officers have already lost 5 paid holidays in the past 7 years. To receive 16hrs. of comp time in lou of the pay I think is justifiable. The only time comp time will cost taxpayers money is upon retirement. If an Officer takes comp time and it creates overtime, that officers time can be cancelled.

    Explain to me why if the city council has not approved our tentative contract, they already have been taking extra money out for my medical coverage, have not paid me for the last holiday or the clothing allowance. If they do not agree to this contract the city will have to repay all officers for the money they have already been deducting from their paychecks.

    What you will start seeing is less qualified people attemtping to be police officers if the pay and benefits are not there, which creates liability to the city as well as safety issue. If your not getting a good application base they will start dropping the standards which they have already done by getting rid of the college requirment to get people to apply.

    I know you might not agree with my answers but try wearing the shoes of a police officer. If you ever wanted to see a day in the life of an officer the department does authorize ride alongs, I ask you do one

  28. Example. yesterday in Pittsburgh. 3 Officers lost their lives. One being an Officer who was on his way HOME from work.

    My heart goes out to their families. Godbless their souls.

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