Independence faces major budget deficit

INDEPENDENCE -- The city of Independence will trim its staffing by 10 percent in 2011-12.

INDEPENDENCE -- The city of Independence will trim its staffing by 10 percent in 2011-12.

Leaders are also considering reductions to employee health insurance and benefits, and restructuring personnel to create, among other things, an economic development department.

Last month, City Manager David Clyne announced that Independence could face a budget deficit of almost $500,000 by 2014, and $1.3 million the following year.

The aforementioned "reorganization" would result in savings of about $100,000 per year, while helping the city boost its local business climate.

"This is about putting time on our side," Clyne said. "Rather than looking at going bust in several years, this gives us a year or two of breathing room. But at some point, the economy is going to have to help us out."

The crunch is connected to the nearly $12 million civic center, which was funded by municipal bonds sold in 2009.

The city is using urban renewal district revenue to pay down that loan. The URD has generated far less revenue, however, than a set of 2004 projections that officials based the project on in the first place. As such, money is being borrowed from other Independence funds.

Ross Schultz, interim finance director, predicted the city's budget end balance would fall from the current $1.78 million to $488,000 by 2013-14 without cost cutting measures, and a $1.3 million deficit by 2015-16.

As part of the reorganization, Independence will eliminate four full-time employee positions after July 1, including a public works job, a receptionist and the deputy city recorder. Two of the four slots are retirement vacancies that won't be filled.

An accounting supervisor position will be reclassified to entail greater responsibility. The city will also keep a part-time interim finance director, instead of filling that spot full time.

"This is going to slow down our ability to respond to certain areas," Clyne said. "But there aren't any services that will be cut outright."

Leaders hope to form a partnership with the Monmouth-Independence Network to provide a shared customer service representative to be housed in the civic center.

Clyne said a city management team will meet with employee labor representatives to examine reductions to health insurance. Teamster monthly coverage costs, for example, increased from $1,084 to $1,237 per individual.

Independence's Police Department recently volunteered to relinquish some of its employee benefits to reduce insurance premiums.

Perhaps the biggest element of the restructure is the creation of an economic development department, which will be headed by Shawn Irvine, community development technician.

Irvine's primary duties will be trying to lure new industrial and commercial firms to Independence.

"This is all about surviving the economy," Clyne said. "And hopefully, at the end of the day, we can sustain ourselves with new economic growth."


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