Covington struggles with 3.8 million dollar budget deficit

COVINGTON, KY (FOX19) - The economic issues that have paralyzed many cities in Ohio are having a similar affect in one Northern Kentucky town. This week Covington city leaders proposed cuts that would eliminate 24 positions to help fill the 3.8 million dollar deficit that is anticipated for the upcoming budget year.

City officials say 10 of those positions would come from the fire department.

For the last few months the city manager has been going around on a "budget road show", trying to explain to civic groups and neighborhoods why they are in the pinch they are financially and how they plan to get out of it.

"I don't want to fire anybody. It's not a part of the game," City commissioner Steve Casper said chocked up with emotion.

Casper has taken talks of personnel cuts to heart.

"Who wants to fire somebody? That's not part of what I ran for," Casper said.

He knows right now, however, that the city has few other options.

"We paid out more money than we really had," Casper explained. "It's come to a point that this commission is not willing to do that anymore."

"This issue is simply been a Band-aid on it for decades," Commissioner Shawn Master said. "This commission has been the first to tackle it."

City Manager Larry Klein says they have been dealing with significant budget deficit issues for the last two years.

"We've been literally taking the money out of the bank to make that up," Klein said. "Well now next year the bank is dry."

Klein says instead of job cuts, they are hoping other options can help fill the 3.8 million dollar budget hole.

"Changes in the healthcare plan would certainly eliminate the lion share of the deficit, but not all," Klein shared.

City Firefighter union president Mike Holtman says after months of negotiations both sides got down to the issues they were not willing to compromise on.

"The city said, 'We must have concessions on healthcare'," Holtman recalled. "So we're working towards that goal."

Klein says a healthcare compromise could help to save 2.5 million.

"Currently our healthcare plan has no deductibles, no co pay, no co-insurance, no out of pocket maximum and some of our employees pay as little as 5 dollars a week for a family healthcare plan," Klein said.

"Yes it's going to cost them more but to this point it's been virtually free for them," Casper added.

Holtman says the healthcare benefits are only where they are currently due to concessions on other issues like salary that have been made over the years.

"It's a very complicated issue but we believe there are other things that they could cut," Holtman said.

At the end of the day, however, both sides remain optimistic a middle ground can be found.

"I believe that we can sit down," Holtman said. "We're reasonable people and we've always negotiated in good faith in the past and I believe we can do that."

"It has to be a team effort, there has to be compromise, there has to be change," Klein shared.

Casper too, is confident they can work together to avoid significant personnel cuts.

"We can overcome it if everybody plays a role; all 366 instead of forcing it on just a few," Casper said.

Copyright 2011 FOX19. All Rights Reserved.