Columbus mayor fears budget shortfall will force city employee layoffs

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - After a week-long delay, Columbus City Council approved spending $700,000 to fund 10 non-profit crime prevention programs.

The programs were described in detail to council members last week and the figure falls about $40,000 short of the money allocated for that department, but council postponed the approval to add a provision that openly declared potential conflicts of interest within the groups receiving money.  They wanted to make sure none of the programs have direct ties to the people who are approving their funding in the way of large campaign contributions.  Seeing nothing major, council voted to go with the plan suggested by crime prevention director, Seth Brown.

A highly debated issue at the same meeting was a predicted budget shortfall.  Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said the money that Columbus is missing may translate to about 100 city employees losing their jobs.

One of the proposals to cut back on spending involves asking employees to contribute a higher percentage to their health insurance plans.  Representatives from city workers on both sides of the issue spoke at the meeting.

"I have no problem making the sacrifice of paying a higher premium if it guarantees that no one in the city government is laid off," said Drale Short.

"We feel that a lot of these increases are based on the city's desire to push the majority of employees into the city's health clinic, and most employees don't want to give up their physicians and go there," said Randy Robertson.

Robertson added that the insurance rate increases will be highest for people who have their entire family on the health plan.

"People don't come to work for the government for the pay, they come for the benefits, and we have decent benefits," added Robertson.

Some council members suggested there may be other ways to reduce spending or reach a different compromise.  Other councilors voiced their doubt in the accuracy of the budget shortfall numbers. In the end, council voted to postpone the decision until next year to give the employees more opportunity to voice their feedback.

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