Unions and liberal activists slam budget

Coalition for Essential Services press conference

Union representatives and community activists, under the umbrella of the Coalition for Essential Services, assailed those choices at a news conference before the morning Council meeting. They called the sales tax plan regressive and budget cuts harmful to residents.

They advocated raising the gross-receipts portion of the city business-privilege tax.

"We are here today to say the mayor promised a 'people's budget,' but he and Council failed to deliver on that promise," said Sherrie Cohen, a coalition member.

The budget incorporates actions taken late last year to deal with a $1 billion, five-year shortfall and makes more cuts to cope with an additional projected $1.4 billion gap between now and 2014. The city has frozen further reductions in the wage and business-privilege tax until 2015; increased fees for, among other services, commercial trash pickup; ordered involuntary, unpaid furloughs for many workers; and eliminated more than 1,000 permanent positions and 2,000 part-time and seasonal jobs.

Terris Miller, who just finished his sophomore year at Elizabeth City State University, said he worked as a Recreation Department supervisor last summer at $11.38 an hour. "I no longer have that job," he said at the news conference yesterday.

Recreation Commissioner Susan Slawson said that her department hired 1,659 seasonal workers last year and that this year she expected it to hire 887. That means at least 1,000 fewer youngsters will get to go camping, she said. Last year, the camping program served 10,000 children.

Although no branch libraries will be closed, they will be open only five days a week instead of six, and funding for the popular LEAP after-school program runs out at the end of the calendar year. Mayoral spokesman Doug Oliver said private foundations had expressed interest in funding that program.

And although Nutter restored money to allow 46 of 73 outdoor pools to open this summer - with the help of nearly $430,000 in private donations - Betty Beaufort of Point Breeze said closing the Chew Playground pool would put children at risk if they tried to cross neighborhoods where territoriality reigns.

"What are the kids and what are the community to do?" she asked.

The budget calls for a $56 million spending cut this year, including the elimination of 250 positions, meaning layoffs for 74 employees. About 50 of those workers are to be offered other positions that are now vacant. Layoff notices went out last week.

The police budget was cut $4 million, mostly by reducing vehicles and overtime; the Fire Department will lose 31 positions, and seven lieutenants will be demoted. No police officers or firefighters will lose their jobs.