Councillors urge cost cutting at City Hall

As employment costs and overhead soar at City Hall, the councillors are calling for the city administration to employ cost cutting measures, such as an automated payroll to replace cash payments.

Data presented by the City Treasurer at yesterday’s statutory meeting showed that for June, the city collected $144 million but spent $215 million. This expenditure saw the city recording a deficit of just over $70 million.

The sum collected last month was $9 million more than the June, 2016 revenue, $18 million less than the June, 2015 revenue and $62 million more than the sum collected in 2014, yet deficits persist.

The expenditure report showed that 38% or $82 million of revenue was spent on employment costs, while $69 million was spent on employment overheads.

The increase in employment costs represent a marginal increase of $6 million from the $76 million in employment costs in June, 2016, however there has been a $51 million increase in employment overhead from June, 2016.

Operating expenses decreased to $56 million from $90 million last year, while maintenance expenses, moved from $15 million to $6 million. Additionally other expenses cost a mere $312,000 compared to $1 million in 2016.

For the period January to June, 2017, City Hall amassed $1,265,716,592 in revenue. This is $25 million less than the $1,290,812,534 raised over the same period in 2016.

Rates continue to be the largest source of revenue, generating $751,251,507 over the last six months. Sundries have netted $296,584,620, markets $141,035,466, while container fees have brought in $76,845,000.

Councillor James Samuels of the APNU questioned the continued deficit, while noting that it raises questions about the financial responsibility of the council.

Though Mayor Patricia Chase-Green attempted to claim that the deficit continues because of council’s inability to introduce new revenue sources as well as central government’s unwillingness to help it pay its debts, the other councillors were not convinced.

Team Legacy’s Carolyn Caesar and APNU’s Ron Persaud asked why measures to cut cost had not been introduced.

“Council seems to be effectively spending huge amounts but not effectively pinching pennies, especially since we don’t even have pennies,” Persaud said, before stressing that revenue needs to be more meaningfully utilised.

Caesar questioned why council was still paying workers via cheque, when this method was attracting a further charge of $500 per cheque.

According to Caesar, a senior staff member of the bank has asked that councillors visit to see the confusion which ensues when City Hall staff go in to cash their cheques. She noted that the bank is concerned about the security risk attached to this practice and reported having approached the city administration about moving to a payroll system which would see workers being paid through personal bank accounts.

Town Clerk Royston King acknowledged that the bank has spoken with his office about its concerns. According to him, senior staff members have on occasion had to be deployed to maintain order when City Hall workers have been disruptive while attempting to cash their cheques.

King explained that while they have been working with the union to have workers open bank accounts to facilitate an easier payment method, this has been made difficult by the “mindset” of some workers.

“Workers have a certain mindset. They want to count their money in their hands,” he told council.

City Treasurer Ron McCalman, contributing to the debate, asked that council institute a policy that would require those applying for jobs at City Hall to already be in possession of a bank account. He explained that this is a requirement at several public and private agencies and would greatly reduce the problems being faced because of cash payment.

Though councillors agreed that this was a good idea, none of those present raised a motion to have such a policy crafted nor did anyone raise a motion to have the matter referred to the Human Resources Committee for further action.

In the absence of a council decision, this issue, like most of the other issues raised at the level of council, remains unresolved.

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