Freeport Budget

Budget Battle
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Freeport's mayor announced a plan to tackle the city's budget deficit, a plan that includes deep cuts to city services, layoffs and tax hikes.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon Mayor Gitz unveiled the city budget that includes $1.5 million in cuts and $900,000 in tax increases to balance the city's budget. But it comes at a cost to public safety as 10 police officers and two fire department employees will lose their jobs.

As Freeport's mayor for six years, Jim Gitz called this budget process the hardest and most painful in his career.

"I do not feel good about this budget and the service cuts. But I think it's necessary. I think we must exert fiscal discipline," said Gitz.

To soften the blow, the mayor is also proposing a pay freeze for all city employees, which would save $140,000 and jobs.

"Without a voluntary agreement to do that we're obligated to follow through in the agreement. The irony is the way they're written some people will be getting increases, while other people will be getting their walking papers," Gitz said.

Personnel makes up 80 percent of Freeport's $12-million budget. So the city's police and fire chiefs are not surprised by the layoffs but say service will suffer.

"It may mean things will take a little longer to get done. We're going to have to pass some responsibilities around," said Chief Jim Blackbourn, Freeport Fire Dept.

They're only hope is that these cuts will be the last for a long while.

"We need to resolve this issue and at least from a police standpoint we want it resolved this year. We don't want to continue with this pain year in and year out with people wondering if they're going to have a job or not," said Chief Jerry Whitmore, Freeport Police Dept.

The budget relies on increasing the telecomm, cable and gas taxes. If these hikes don't pass through the city council even more cuts will be necessary.