Cities slash public safety budgets

Tightening the budget

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal:Think back to the top of program for a minute those two stories about the Fed and consumers. You roll in what the president said today in a speech in Kansas City about the economy that there are "hard days ahead," and the prospect of a sustained recovery does seem to be in some doubt. State and local governments are feeling the economic unease. And that is creating another wave of layoffs.

From WNIJ, in northern Illinois, Mike Moen has more now on public safety payrolls.


Mike Moen: On the west side of Rockford, Ill., Fire Station No. 8 is responding to its first call of the day. Pretty soon, this particular station will likely shut down. It's part of a cost-cutting move proposed by city leaders. The plan calls for laying off up to 20 firefighters total.

Fire Chief Derek Bergsten says it's a difficult choice. But he says Rockford city officials have already trimmed so much, they had nowhere else to cut. Bergsten says neighborhood residents will certainly notice this spending reduction.

Derek Bergsten: Taking a station out of an area creates a longer response time. So there will be an impact on the level of service provided.

Adding insult to injury, Bergsten says the city doesn't have any money to buy new fire equipment.

Bergsten:We have some of the oldest equipment in the state. We still have two 1976 ladder trucks that we're using on a daily basis.

Police departments are also feeling the pain. In the Chicago suburb of Naperville, the city recently laid off a handful of officers.

Vince Clark heads the police union there. He says most outreach programs have also been eliminated.

Vince Clark: Our Internet programs of telling kids how to stay away from predators, home owners associations, you know, all the different community programs that we have interaction with.

Christiana McFarland is with the National League of Cities. She says these examples show just how desperate city governments are.

Christiana McFarland: Cities at this point are already down to their bare bones. Some are taking some unprecedented measures to balance their budgets. We know that one in four city officials are reporting that they are making cuts to public safety.

McFarland says there's another growing problem for local governments: Paying retired police officers and firefighters with less revenue.

McFarland: Cities nationwide are feeling the brunt of pension costs. It's a huge drag on many local budgets.

That sentiment is shared by Rockford's mayor. In a guest editorial for the city's newspaper, he urged Illinois lawmakers to enact reform when it comes to public safety pensions. He says it's a tragic irony they might have to lay off existing firefighters to help pay benefits for retired public safety personnel.

From Rockford, Ill., I'm Mike Moen for Marketplace.

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