(WIBR - Knoxville) City leaders are facing a tough test-- balance a budget without raising taxes or making cuts that trim the number of firefighters and police keeping the city safe.
"We are facing some pretty big decisions for this budget year," said Mayor Madeline Rogero. "Because of unfunded pension liabilities, which I inherited two years ago and we've been talking about this for two years, we have some significant increases for the coming budget year. And then of course you have the natural increases like salary, healthcare, just the natural increases that come and so we're having to face that."
Mayor Rogero said the city will have to pay between $6 - $7 million more for unfunded pensions from the recession. As the City of Knoxville prepares to fact that reality, Mayor Rogero has asked all city department heads for two budgets. One is a budget that keeps services on a similar path. The second reflects a six percent cut.
Thursday, the mayor talked budget with Knoxville Fire Chief Stan Sharp and Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch.
Chief Sharp had three three requests for the next budget year: funding for a second deputy chief with a salary of about $80,000 - $100,000, increasing each firefighter's clothing allowance from $375 to $500, and about $63,000 in computer software upgrades. Chief Sharp's cut budget included wiping out 34 firefighter positions, 20 of which are currently filled, and closing two fire stations in addition to other cuts.
"Right now we're running bare bones. Our truck run with three men," said Knoxville Fire Captain Kevin Faddis, who's also the president of the Knoxville Firefighters Association. "You're not keeping neighborhoods safe if you're shutting down fire stations or taking policemen away."
Fewer officers is what Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said the city will face if he's forced to cut $3 million from his department's $50 million budget. Chief Rausch said a six percent decrease will the positions of 32 new recruits, 11 cadets, and 14 officers at risk, along with other employees, like office assistants and telephone operators.
"We don't have a lot of excess in our department. We're a very lean department. We're very responsible in what we ask for and what we use," said Chief Rausch.
Mayor Rogero said no final decisions have been made, as she will continue having budget discussions with other city department. She presents her proposed budget for next year to the city council on April 24th.