Memphis will have to cut city jobs to balance the budget

Most city workers are getting paychecks from the police department, the fire department and public works. Monday, the city council's budget chairman said there is a good chance all could face the threat of staffing cuts in the near future.

City Councilman Jack Sammons has spent weeks meeting with city finance officials and he says there is no doubt. "The only way we're going to get out of this problem is by reduction of staff," he said.

Although city administrators believe they have balanced the current budget, they have said nothing concrete about the chance of layoffs. Sammons chairs the city's budget committee and he wants the public ready for what he says is inevitable.

"It's going to be painful," he said. "It's not going to be fun, and it will be unpopular politically, but it's something ultimately that we're going to have to do."

Finance Director Robert Lipscomb said, "This is a people business. And I think you got to be sensitive to the employees."

Lipscomb thinks it is too soon to say what will happen and that it's not fair to keep employees wondering about their futures.

"I think we have to look at everything," he said. "We are looking at everything. But I think the issue of employees will be looked at as a last resort in a way that is constructive and mindful of the feelings and concerns of those employees."

Sammons said Memphians should be ready. Already division directors have cut back on travel and supplies and are operating with a hiring freeze. But staff reductions are the only way to move forward without raising taxes substantially.

"We've got to look at the people that are making north of $40,000. Those are the jobs where there's meat on the bones- so to speak - that we're going to have to talk about cutting or eliminating those jobs. Not just laying people off. But eliminating those jobs."

Right now, city finance officials are working on their options, options about how to reduce the workforce as painlessly as possible. Plans could be released in the coming weeks.