Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bellevue council supports restoring hours to city staff

Four more hours per week would boost city workers

Express Staff Writer

Abby Lachance

The city staff of Bellevue may get more time to do their jobs in the coming fiscal year.

During a budget discussion Thursday, the City Council voiced general approval to add four hours more per week to the 12 staff positions that support city services.

A final decision will be made later this summer.

City Administrator Tom Blanchard presented the plan to the council after identifying a $74,234 positive balance in the city's general fund.

"We could add the hours and still have $27,000 in reserve," Blanchard said.

Staff hours at all departments were cut back in March in response to the recession. Since that time, several city department heads have complained about it.

The city currently splits about $317,000 among six city departments, funding nine full-time and three part-time positions.

Librarian Patty Gilman has sought more hours for a part-time employee to help keep up with increased demand for the summer reading program, which has enrolled 110 kids.

"We had 200 people come through the library in one day last week," she said. "The increase in demand has been amazing."

Fire Chief Greg Beaver said in an interview that he has had to forego necessary training for volunteer firefighters as well as routine maintenance on equipment due to the cutbacks.

Planning and Zoning Director Craig Eckles said he has had a hard time keeping up with work loads working four eight-hour days each week.

"The city planning department will suffer eventually," Eckles said.

Blanchard said the Public Works Department has cut back on weed spraying and reduced the amount of work maintaining city streets.

"The staff has sacrificed to solve the economic crisis, but we have been trying to squeeze the same amount of work into less hours," he said.

City Council Chairman Chris Koch said his biggest concern about restoring hours to the city staff relates to livelihood issues.

"These people have families with mortgages and they are working with less hours," he said in an interview. "I want to bring back their hours as fast and responsibly as possible."

A final draft of the proposed city budget will be prepared by the end of July. Budget hearings will follow during the month of August.

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