Corbin H. Crable
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Gardner Mayor Dave Drovetta hosted a second town hall meeting on the city’s 2011 budget Saturday morning at City Hall.
Drovetta took questions from local residents and discussed the role of the intermodal facility in residential and commercial growth. He also addressed the reduction in force implemented by the city early last month. That decision resulted in the elimination of six positions within Gardner’s Community Development department.
“This is a stop-gap measure to stop the bleeding,” Drovetta said. “We’re holding our own. What (the RIF) does is, it keeps us treading water. We continue to look for more savings in the 2011 budget.”
Drovetta said the eliminated positions amount to a savings of $500,000 for the city, but it still faces a $500,000 budget shortfall for 2011. The Gardner City Council had originally discussed the possibility of an eight-mill increase to offset the shortfall, but with the reduction in force, that lowers the proposed increase to four mills.
However, Drovetta said the RIF has meant more duties heaped on remaining employees.
“The response is slower in Community Development,” he said. “We’re going to have to rely more on complaints (from citizens) than proactive measures.”
One resident at the meeting said he believes Gardner is still small enough to seek input from residents on cost-saving measures and the issue of layoffs, and that the issues should not only be examined by council members or department managers.
Drovetta and City Administrator Stewart Fairburn said that although they encourage the public to offer input to the city whenever possible, it is not feasible to allow residents to become involved in the decision-making process surrounding reductions in force.
“When we’re talking about specific positions – we can’t open that up for general discussion,” Drovetta noted. “We just can’t do that.”
He added, however, that he realizes the impact a reduction in force can have on all involved.
“It’s not the position, it’s the people – no matter how sterile we try to make it,” he said.
The same resident asked Drovetta  furlough instead of an RIF. Drovetta said the city had taken all measures possible before resorting to cutting positions.
“We’ve done no pay raises … we’ve eliminated overtime,” he said.
The conversation then shifted to the subject of the intermodal facility; the resident pointed out that when work begins on the intermodal and growth eventually occurs, the city will be in the situation of needing to fill the vacant Community Development positions once again.
“The intermodal isn’t our problem,” Drovetta said. “We won’t be put in that.”
The resident noted that the city will still see benefits from commercial development, but Drovetta and Fairburn said they doubt the advantages will be immediately recognizable.
“I’d be surprised if there is significant work done in 2010 (on the intermodal),” Drovetta said.
Fairburn said he agreed.
“It will strengthen our housing market, but it will not create a spike,” he said.
When asked how aggressively the city is encouraging people to move to Gardner, Drovetta said city staff and realtors have the challenge of working to draw people to town in the midst of an economic recession and a sharp decrease in the number of housing permits issued.
“The challenge is the builders,” Drovetta said. “You don’t have builders who have capital, and banks are no longer willing to lend for speculative builds.”
Fairburn added that at the peak of its recent population growth, the city of Gardner issued 450 permits for single-family homes in 2005. That number plunged to only 56 in 2009, the second year of the recession. The city estimates it will issue only 50 permits this year.
The council will again face the decision of balancing the 2011 budget through tax increases or budget cuts when it begins discussions at a June 28 work session.
Budget talks will continue through the summer; the council will approve the 2011 budget and submit it to the state in August.
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