The first of four public hearings on balancing the city's budget and closing a projected deficit of $33-million took place at the Hartwell Recreation Center on Wednesday night. Nearly 70 residents and city workers filled the room to speak their minds to City Council members.
City Manager Milton Dohoney recently revealed his recommendations. They included cutting dozens of police positions and millions of dollars in temporary cuts. Dohoney said it's just a starting point. That's because even if the proposed cuts are approved by Council, members would still have to find a way to fill a $25-million deficit.
Before the public hearing, council members Wendell Young, Cecil Thomas, Amy Murray and Vice-Mayor Roxanne Qualls went on a tour of Hartwell. Members said they wanted to see how the current cuts are playing out in the neighborhood and what more cuts could mean for residents throughout the city.
The group walked and talked throughout Hartwell for about an hour.
Resident Dawn Murray and Rev. Jim Fry, president of the Hartwell Improvement Association, led the tour. They two schooled council members on what their neighborhood needs. Murray said an underpass at the train crossing off Burns Avenue could save time and lives.
"Stopped trains all the time," Murray said. "Blocking fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, and just children crossing to and from school so it's a big issue."
Resident Reuben Holliman agreed. We found him waiting on the steps of the Trinity Baptist Church on Burns Avenue for the train to pass.
"I have to walk down here several times to get to CVS down here," said Holliman. "If I come down here at this train stop, I have to wait for a while for this to go. I don't know how long I'ma wait. I've been waiting for probably like 20 minutes now."
Council members and concerned residents also saw abandoned properties and possible violations that needed to be fixed. Many council members took note; telling their staff to look into the issues raised on the tour.
"Part of what we are about it learning as much as we can because as we have to make hard decisions," said Qualls. "I think it's important that as many council members have as much information about what are important things in the neighborhoods."
Still, some lawmakers said that, sadly, when it comes down to either laying off city workers or more cuts to programs that could help neighborhoods such as Hartwell, neighbors often lose out.
"I think taking your patrol off is not the right answer," said Council Member Amy Murray. "Neighborhoods like this, we need the patrol officers and in all of our neighborhoods. It is hard because right now we are at a $33-million deficit and we're going to have to make hard decisions but I think our neighborhoods are vital. We need them to be safe."
"We know that there's a need over here but it's going to take a tremendous amount of need to address the problem," said Council Member Cecil Thomas. "It's frustrating to see this is a need and you can't do anything about it."
Council will meet in a special session on August 30th to vote on their recommendations.
The next public hearing is scheduled for Monday at the Hirsch Recreation Center in Avondale.