Broke: Las Vegas Nevada Police Department Faces $68 Million Budget Shortfall – Costs $525 MILLION A Year To Run Department

June 26, 2012

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA — The Metropolitan Police Department’s estimated $68 million budget shortfall next year has Sheriff Doug Gillespie preparing for a worse case scenario. He must find the money by April or be forced to make drastic cuts, including patrol officer positions, which are already at a bare minimum.

Metro estimates it will cost about $525 million to run the department next year. They have already scrapped two police academies, closed a substation and cut more than 230 positions in the last two years.

Gillespie detailed to the police commission how serious the situation is, calling on help from the City of Las Vegas and Clark County. In 60-days, he wants to know how much the department will get from each entity, and he expects a financial tug of war.

“The city and the county have had to reduce service levels as well, eliminate positions as well, so none of these decisions are going to be easy,” he said.

The county says it has no more to give and that deeper cuts are inevitable. Uniformed officer numbers are already near minimum safety levels.

“You can’t reduce their resources and numbers below acceptable levels,” said Gillespie.

Another big reason Metro is in this bind is Clark County’s declining property taxes, which have seen a 36 percent drop accounting for nearly $61 million that normally would have been in the police budget. The sheriff plans to ask the Nevada legislature to re-allocate $54 million earmarked to hire new cops to help fill the budget.

One of the more surprising moments of the meeting was a $350 donation that got a standing ovation. Paul Jones collected soda cans and donated the money to the department.

“I heard bad things were going to happen. I wanted to help save people’s jobs and help donate money,” he said.

What’s inside his piggy bank may not be much, but Gillespie says the gesture gives him goose bumps. With the department facing one of the toughest financial binds since the 1980’s, Jones is just happy he can give some relief.

“Thank you for keeping the bad guys off the streets,” he said.

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Broke: Detroit Michigan To Lay Of 164 Firefighters – 19% Of Workforce – Claims It May Be Temporary

June 26, 2012

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – As Detroit continues to work through its financial difficulties, the city will lay off 164 firefighters by the end of July, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s office announced Monday.

The layoffs could be temporary, as the city hopes to secure a federal grant that would restore the jobs of 108 firefighters. Still, there is no guarantee the city will be awarded the grant, Detroit Fire Commissioner Donald Austin said during budget talks this spring.

“Since I became mayor, I’ve made public safety my top priority, and I’ve said I would protect the jobs of police and firefighters, but fiscal realities have made this untenable,” Bing said in a statement. “With my administration continuing to work to fiscally stabilize the city and with recent cuts to the city’s budget, we’re announcing the layoffs of 164 Detroit Fire Department firefighters by the end of July.”

Bing said he hopes that many, if not most, of the remaining 56 firefighters who will lose their jobs will be recalled as the fire department loses others through retirement and attrition. The layoffs represent nearly 19 percent of the fire department’s 881 sworn firefighters. There are also 248 EMS technicians.

Dan McNamara, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association, called the layoffs disastrous and said the action will force 16 fire companies throughout the city to close.

“For as long as we’ve been fighting fires in the city of Detroit, we have guaranteed that if you call us, we will come,” McNamara said in statement. “If these cuts remain, there will be times when we won’t have the necessary resources to respond. … We have a disaster waiting to happen that will likely result in not only the loss of property, but potentially the loss of lives.”

McNamara said Bing is calling for $23 million in cuts from the department, cuts that “will put its fire department and its residents at great risk — increasing response times and further taxing an already greatly reduced workforce.”

In his statement, Bing said Austin and his staff have developed a plan to maintain the highest levels of fire service by:

• Deploying engines from adjacent sectors and using newly installed GPS systems in the engines and rigs to best dispatch fire department personnel.

•Conducting thorough risks/gain analysis of interior versus exterior fire suppression.

•Continuing community fire prevention education.

“Laying off any of our courageous and dedicated public safety personnel is the last thing I want to do at this point, but I have to face this hard reality,” Bing said.

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Fired Duval County Texas Deputy Sheriff Victor Carrillo Arrested For Theft After Pawning Department Assault Rifle

June 21, 2012

DUVAL COUNTY, TEXAS -The Duval County Sheriff’s Office has arrested a former deputy for allegedly pawning off an assault rifle that belonged to the department.

Victor Carrillo, 27, has been charged for theft by a public servant. Carrillo was fired for an unrelated matter last month. When he did not turn in his $1,500 rifle, officials eventually discovered it had been pawned off in Corpus Christi.

At last report, Carrillo was being held at the Duval County Jail in lieu of a $5,000 bond.

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Broke: Los Angeles County Court System Downsizing As Money Runs Out

June 16, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – The Los Angeles County court system began handing out layoff notices Friday as plunging budgets set in motion major reductions.

Officials said the cutbacks in the court system will affect 431 employees and 56 courtrooms in a county that’s home to nearly 10 million people.

Targeted employees were given layoff notices and packages of information on how to get health insurance and other benefits. The workers were initially placed on two-weeks administrative leave to get their affairs in order.

Union representatives stood outside a downtown courthouse wearing stickers that said, “Justice has left the building.”

The court administration, meanwhile, said a job fair will be organized to help them find work.

Presiding Judge Lee Smalley Edmon said it was one of the saddest days in the history of the Los Angeles Superior Court. She expressed concerns for the people laid off as well as consumers who will face a slowdown in resolving civil cases.

“Could we be heading toward five year delays getting to trial?” Edmon asked. “I certainly think so.”

Friday began with a report that a courthouse employee had been found dead on a loading dock. Edmon said she was notified of the death of Ray Nemo, a court facilitator who had been laid off previously but brought back to work and was not scheduled to be laid off again. But he may not have known that before he died of a heart attack.

Another employee reported having heart palpitations and an ambulance was called. But Edmon said the woman was not one of those targeted in the layoffs.

“It is a stressful time for our court system,” Edmon said.

The layoffs and pay cuts are Los Angeles’ answer to the statewide budget crisis that has lawmakers in Sacramento debating how to reduce a $16 billion deficit. Other counties are making cuts but their numbers are dwarfed by Los Angeles County with its 4,700 employees and its need to absorb $100 million in funding cuts. Edmon said 70 million in cuts were made earlier and the new cutbacks will amount to $30 million in savings.

Each county is handling its court funding cuts differently.

In Fresno County, seven branch courthouses in outlying areas are being closed. Residents in those rural areas will have to travel longer distances to file lawsuits.

In Ventura County, as in Los Angeles County, the services of court reporters are being eliminated for civil trials. Litigants will have to hire their own court stenographers and in some cases judges are being told they may have to take notes on their own cases rather than rely on a printed record.

“We are laying off people who are committed to serving the public,” Edmon said. “It is a terrible loss both to these dedicated employees and to the public.”

The union representing state and municipal employees _ the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees _ called Friday’s action a “freeze on justice in Los Angeles” and warned that the county would experience “an end to timely justice” with cases being delayed for years, particularly in civil courts

Friday’s action calls for laying off 157 people, while hundreds more will be given lower-level positions, reduced to part-time work or transferred to new jobs because their old ones have been eliminated.

Edmon and Assistant Presiding Judge David Wesley expect further cuts and said the new cuts are permanent.

“There will be more cuts next year and their impacts will be severe,” Wesley said.

The current plan eliminates the county’s innovative juvenile traffic courts, which will result in the closure of 11 courtrooms. Court reporters will no longer be available for civil trials and 110 management, clerical and administrative positions outside courtrooms are being cut. These are likely to mean longer lines at windows where people go to pay traffic tickets or file civil lawsuits.

A special temporary restraining order center will be operated by three judges in order to handle the need for emergency orders that can’t wait. Other judges will be assigned to achieve case settlements.

“We will have no trouble keeping our judicial officers busy,” Edmon said. But she acknowledged they will be working longer hours with reduced staff.

Although most of the 56 courtrooms affected countywide are civil courts, 24 criminal courtrooms also are being closed. If criminal courtrooms need to be reactivated to provide defendants with speedy trials, more civil courts would be closed, Edmon said.

The executive officer and clerk of the court, John A. Clarke, suggested the court is being swept up in “catastrophic changes” at the state level.

“The commitment of our judicial officers and staff to preserve access to justice is unwavering,” he said. “But our ability to follow through on that commitment may soon be exhausted.”

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Broke: Stockton California Authorizes City Manager To File For Bankruptcy

June 6, 2012

STOCKTON, CALIFORNIA – The city of Stockton moved a step closer to becoming the nation’s largest city to declare bankruptcy, authorizing the city manager to file for Chapter 9 protection from creditors.

A 6-1 vote after a tense 4 1/2-hour public meeting Tuesday directed City Manager Bob Deis to file if the current mediation process fails. On March 27, Stockton stopped payments to creditors and entered a confidential mediation process under AB 506, a California law designed to slow municipal bankruptcies by forcing all parties to the table. Under this law, the bargaining period has a 60-day limit, unless all parties agree to extend it for another 30 days.

The city and its creditors agreed to extend negotiations through June 25.

Deis said he wants to be ready to go to bankruptcy court the next day if talks fail.

A statement released by the city described the financial situation as “dire” and noted that the city will face a $26-million deficit by July 1.

The port city of 290,000 has one of the highest home-foreclosure rates in the nation, as well as a high rate of violent crime. City Hall also is in an ongoing struggle with police and city workers unions over pensions. It has already cut many city services and is selling off properties such as city parking garages.

“It’s time to stop the chaos and degradation of this organization and fix the structural imbalance,” Deis said in a statement. “We have to start the road to recovery.”

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Broke Suffolk County New York Charging Dog Owners As Much As $13 To Enter “Big Dog” Park While “Small Dog” Park is Free

June 6, 2012

SUFFOLK COUNTY, NEW YORK – Dog owners have been hot under the collar about fees at some Long Island dog parks.

On summer weekends, visitors to the “big dog” play area at West Hills must pay a fee of up to $13 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Big dogs are considered those that weigh more than 25 pounds.

However, visitors to the “small dog” park on the other side of West Hills don’t pay a fee.

“I wouldn’t call it prejudice,” said big dog owner Sidney McNeil. “I just think it’s stupid.”

Some big dog owners, like Lisa LaMorte of Huntington Station, have written county lawmakers, asking for a reduction in the fee. But with Suffolk County facing a huge budget deficit, dog owners seem to be barking up the wrong tree.

“I don’t mind paying something,” said LaMorte. “But what they are asking is too much.”

“I feel sorry for them,” said small dog owner Michael Price. “But I am here in the small dog park and very happy about that.”

According to Suffolk County officials, canine size doesn’t matter at West Hills and is not the reason behind the fees in the “big dog” park.

“The fee charged on the weekends is associated with parking and the amenities offered at the park, which include hiking, picnicking and horseback riding,” said county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter. “The fee structure that exists precedes the establishment of the dog park.”

“Honestly, do they really think I am going to pay $13 to bring my dog here?” asked dog owner Julie Schrana. “I can arrange a play date in my backyard.”

Still, other dog owners lamented scaling back their visits to a park they love.

“This is the best dog park on Long Island,” said Laura Lerner, as she held her retriever Maki. “I come here every day and people visit from all over the area.”

Baird-Streeter said anyone wishing to bring their dogs to the park will not incur a fee Monday through Friday and prior to 8 a.m. and after 4 p.m. on weekends.

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Violence A Big Problem In Overcrowded And Underfunded Alabama Prison System – And Its Only Going To Get Worse

June 3, 2012

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Violence has become a growing concern in Alabama’s prisons, an analysis of incident data shows, and prison officials and other experts fear it could become an even bigger problem next year when the system’s overpopulated facilities will be operated on even less money.

Three inmates have been killed in Alabama prisons since this budget year began in October. In the four previous years, prisons had reported, at most, one homicide.

In the 2010-11 year, the Department of Corrections reported no homicides. But it counted 1,397 fights and nonsexual assaults, up from 1,000 the previous year. In addition to an almost 40 percent increase in inmate-on-inmate violence, assaults leading to serious injury doubled, rising from 47 to 95.

Prison officials say that’s a result of better record-keeping. But people who work closely with inmates say the threat is real, leading some prisoners to arm themselves in defense and others to clamor for safer cell space.

“It’s gotten much worse in the last two or three years,” said Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that represents prisoners. “I’ve been hearing from folks that it’s gotten impossible to get into honors dorms because everybody and his cousin is trying to get in.”

Challenge

Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas said the department’s goal is to prevent as many assaults and fights as possible. But violence is an ongoing challenge, he acknowledges, and one that is made more difficult by having too many inmates and too few officers. That problem is likely to get worse in the coming year.

The Department of Corrections’ budget for next year already has been cut $16 million, and there is a potential for an additional $35 million cut, which would mean a “dynamically different prison system,” Thomas said.

“We may have to put it very, very close to a line I’m not comfortable with,” Thomas said.

Already, violence is commonplace in Alabama’s prisons, and not just in the facilities housing what are considered the most hardened criminals. In 2010 and 2011, the highest rates of inmate-on-inmate violence — and the highest rates of assaults causing serious injuries — were in medium-security prisons, according to a Birmingham News analysis of prison reports.

Stevenson and others representing prisoners believe the state’s official counts underestimate the dangers faced by inmates. It’s a suspicion that has been borne out in the past.

The Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta filed suit in 2009, claiming inmates at Donaldson Correctional Facility in west Jefferson County were at risk of harm because of crowding, short staffing and pervasive violence — contentions backed by correctional officers.

As a result of the suit, the Southern Center discovered the state’s public reports about inmate attacks routinely did not match the prison’s internal records.

Between April 2008 and April 2009, the Department of Corrections’ public reports listed only one assault with serious injury at Donaldson. Internal records showed at least 16 Donaldson inmates were taken to outside hospitals during that time for treatment of serious injuries. Among other things, assaults had left two of the inmates with collapsed lungs, another vomiting and urinating blood, and another blind in one eye, according to court documents.

In August 2010, Alabama prison officials installed a system that keeps better track of any assaults or fights that occur. “We do realize that we have to make sure that the figures we gather are validated and accurate,” Thomas said. “We want to make sure we accurately report those to the public.”

Melanie Velez, a lawyer for the Southern Center who was involved in the case, said she believes reporting is better and Donaldson is safer as a result of the lawsuit, which settled in 2011.

“There was nowhere to go but to improve the situation there,” she said.

But she doesn’t believe Alabama prisons have violence under control. “We receive hundreds of letters a month from people who are incarcerated there and their loved ones,” she said.

Rosemary Collins of Shelby County understands why. An advocate for criminal justice reforms as part of a group called Alabama CURE, she hears regularly from inmates who feel threatened by stabbings and other attacks they see around them. One of the inmates is Collins’ 50-year-old son, Victor Russo, who is serving a life-without-parole sentence at St. Clair Correctional Facility near Springville.

“It’s really scary,” she said.

In the past seven months, at least three inmates have died at the hands of other inmates, according to prison officials.

Jabari Leon Bascomb died of multiple stab wounds he received at St. Clair on Oct. 15, just three days after his 22nd birthday.

John Abraham Rutledge, 30, was found strangled to death in his cell at St. Clair on April 27.

Jeremy Jones, 33, died May 24 after being stabbed during a fight with another inmate at Bibb Correctional Facility in Brent.

For every inmate killed, many others were assaulted.

Comparing data

In the state’s 2011 budget year, the inmate-on-inmate assaults and fights reported by the prison system translated to an annual rate of a little more than 4 per 100 inmates. It’s hard to compare that rate with the department’s historical figures because of changes in the way statistics have been collected and reported over the years.

It’s also difficult to judge Alabama’s record against other states because of the different ways violent incidents can be categorized and tallied.

“I don’t know you can say there’s a benchmark because there are so many factors that can go into that,” said Morris Thigpen, a former Alabama prison commissioner who is now director of the National Institute of Corrections.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that the rate of inmate-on-inmate assaults was less than 3 per 100 inmates across all state and federal prisons in 1995 and again in 2000. The agency has since stopped reporting that information, a spokeswoman said.

As of 2011, Tennessee’s Department of Correction reported assaults at a rate of about 2.5 incidents per 100 inmates, while Georgia’s reported rate was 4.5 per 100 inmates and North Carolina’s rate approached 11 per 100 inmates.

At best, though, tracking violence behind bars is an imperfect science.

The Center for Behavioral Health Services and Criminal Justice Research at Rutgers University has found the numbers reported by prison systems are consistently lower than the numbers reported by inmates.

Jing Shi, a research analyst and statistician for the center, said about 20 percent of inmates reported in a 2005 survey that they’d been physically assaulted just in the preceding six months. A key was that researchers asked about specific behaviors, such as slapping and kicking, that inmates might not even think to report as an assault, she said.

Shi said research has linked the prevalence of violence to a range of things, including the way a prison is designed and the way it is run.

In Alabama, a key problem has been the intersection of get-tough criminal policies and anemic funding for prisons. As it stands, Alabama prisons house almost twice as many inmates as they were designed to hold, and they have an 11-to-1 ratio of inmates to correctional officers. In 2005, Alabama ratio’s was better, at 9-to-1, and it was still the worst of any state, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“I think Alabama has been very fortunate, given how understaffed they have been through the years, to have been able to maintain as safe facilities as they have,” Thigpen said.

E.J. “Mac” McArthur, the chief of the Alabama State Employees Association, said to the extent peace has been maintained so far, it’s a credit to seasoned correctional officers. “Regrettably,” he said, “I think we’re living on borrowed time.”

In March, Kim Thomas took the unusual step of leading news reporters on a tour through St. Clair Correctional Facility to highlight the dangerous conditions resulting from overcapacity, understaffed prisons. Thomas pleaded not only for more money for prisons but also for sentencing reforms.

Over the past decade, drug courts and other initiatives have helped control the prison population by diverting thousands of convicts into community corrections programs. Even so, Thomas said, the prison population has continued to grow. Legislators, who have added to the problem by continually creating new crimes and increasing the penalties, passed a measure this year to try to slow the progression. But the measure, which will make it easier for nonviolent offenders to avoid incarceration, offers no short-term fix for prison crowding or the violence it fuels.

“You put enough water in a balloon, it’s going to bust sooner or later,” said Capt. Lloyd Wallace, who works at Limestone Correctional Facility and is president of the 500-member Alabama Correctional Organization.

Unlikely alliance

Wallace said inmates aren’t the only ones at risk. That’s why his group joined with inmates in the Donaldson case to try to address the safety issues. But what he considers the core problem, short staffing, is getting worse throughout the prison system, he said.

“Our staff is lower now than I’ve seen it in years,” Wallace said.

And in the short term, it is more likely to get worse than better. The Legislature cut the prison agency’s budget by a little more than 4 percent for the 2013 fiscal year, which begins in October. And even that amount depends on voters approving a transfer from the Alabama Trust Fund to the state’s General Fund next September.

As of February, the department had fewer than 2,300 correctional officers, less then 65 percent of the authorized number. Thomas said he worries the count will continue to slide. If the worst budget cuts come to pass, the system could be unable to operate safely and might be required to release large numbers of prisoners, he said.

Advocates for prisoners agree staffing and crowding are huge issues. But they say the prison system also has helped foster dangerous conditions by not attacking violence more aggressively, whether it comes at the hands of inmates or staff.

Just this past month, the U.S. Justice Department said it would look into reports that employees had been sexually abusing inmates at the Tutwiler women’s prison near Wetumpka. Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative requested the investigation, saying that at least two Tutwiler inmates had gotten pregnant by guards in recent years and many others had been raped or subjected to sexual advances.

While some offending employees were fired or dismissed, Stevenson told the Justice Department that Tutwiler also retaliated against women who lodged complaints about sexual assaults.

Velez said the issue is similar to physical violence in prisons.

“It’s definitely a combination of factors that include overcrowding and understaffing but also a real reluctance on the part of Alabama corrections officials to realize they have a problem,” she said. “In order for there to be a real systemic change to the culture of violence that permeates Alabama prisons, the Department of Corrections has to recognize that it has a real problem.”

Instead, she and other lawyers say the department fails to protect inmates from assaultive staff and fellow inmates. “They’re letting people fight,” said Stevenson. “They’re not responding in any meaningful way.”

Stevenson is reluctant to call for prosecution of inmates involved in prison clashes; many end up arming themselves and going on the offensive because they have been vulnerable, victimized and unprotected, he said. But, he said, “If you’re only going to do time in segregation for a violent assault, there are going to be more violent assaults.”

Thomas disputes the contention that the prison system doesn’t take the issue seriously.

“We don’t want violence in our facilities,” he said. “It puts our officers in danger, and we are responsible for protecting the inmates.”

Stevenson said society at large has a stake in ensuring that inmates are protected from violence in prison.

“Most people are going to be released,” he said. “Torturing, abusing and assaulting people over many years and then releasing them to the public is not a sensible public safety strategy.”

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Broke: Rhode Island Taxpayers On The Hook For $112 Million After Former Governor Donald Carcieri Gave Company $75 Million In Loan Guarantees

May 28, 2012

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Rhode Island owns a video game company. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Taxpayers in the small, financially stricken New England state are on the hook for tens of millions of dollars loaned out to the video game company 38 Studios. Founded by former Boston Red Sox star pitcher Curt Schilling, the company was supposed to bring jobs for skilled professionals to a state struggling to expand its workforce. But on Thursday, 38 Studios laid off its entire staff of roughly 400 employees with no pay. It also cancelled their health insurance.

For a lack of a better description, 38 Studios went out of business. Now Rhode Island is stuck with the tab of roughly $112 million in loan principal, interest and fees. There’s little chance taxpayers will make up even a quarter of their potential losses, according to industry experts.

The story of 38 Studios has everything: sports stars, political incompetence, government bailouts, taxpayer outrage and — the kicker — big-budget video games.

See also: Former Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri Pissed Away $75 Million In Taxpayer Funds On Video Game Venture That Included Baseball Pitcher Who Liked Video Games But Had Never Made One

The storm began nearly two years ago, when the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, under political pressure from former Republican Governor Donald Carcieri, gave 38 Studios $75 million in loan guarantees as an incentive to relocate from Massachusetts to Rhode Island.

The goal was noble: Rhode Island suffers from the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation — 11.2% — and has struggled to attract companies, which often prefer its northern neighbor Massachusetts. The pitch to politicians and taxpayers was that a big video game venture would help catalyze a local technology hub.

But the deal was flawed from the start, experts say.

38 Studios was barely three years old and hadn’t shipped a single product. Further, 38 Studios’ big project was the development of what’s known as a “massive-multiplayer online role playing game,” better known as a MMORPG. That’s an extremely expensive genre with a very mixed track record of financial success.

“I think Rhode Island was star-struck by Curt Schilling,” says Alexander Sliwinski, news editor for the video game site Joystiq. “You didn’t see Rhode Island give Harmonix, Irrational, Turbine — all companies with established track records — $75 million to move.”
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Broke: Detroit Michigan May Turn Off Half Its Streetlights

May 24, 2012

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – Detroit, whose 139 square miles contain 60 percent fewer residents than in 1950, will try to nudge them into a smaller living space by eliminating almost half its streetlights.

As it is, 40 percent of the 88,000 streetlights are broken and the city, whose finances are to be overseen by an appointed board, can’t afford to fix them. Mayor Dave Bing’s plan would create an authority to borrow $160 million to upgrade and reduce the number of streetlights to 46,000. Maintenance would be contracted out, saving the city $10 million a year.
Enlarge image Detroit May Go Dark

Detroit after dark, which may go darker. Photographer: Garry Owens/Gallery Stock

Other U.S. cities have gone partially dark to save money, among them Colorado Springs; Santa Rosa, California; and Rockford, Illinois. Detroit’s plan goes further: It would leave sparsely populated swaths unlit in a community of 713,000 that covers more area than Boston, Buffalo and San Francisco combined. Vacant property and parks account for 37 square miles (96 square kilometers), according to city planners.

“You have to identify those neighborhoods where you want to concentrate your population,” said Chris Brown, Detroit’s chief operating officer. “We’re not going to light distressed areas like we light other areas.”

Detroit’s dwindling income and property-tax revenue have required residents to endure unreliable buses and strained police services throughout the city. Because streetlights are basic to urban life, deciding what areas to illuminate will reshape the city, said Kirk Cheyfitz, co-founder of a project called Detroit143 — named for the 139 square miles of land, plus water — that publicizes neighborhood issues.
Rethinking Detroit

“It touches kids going to school in the dark,” said Cheyfitz, chief executive of Story Worldwide Ltd., a New York marketing company. “It touches midnight Mass at a church. It touches businesses that want to stay open past 9 p.m.”

Bing in 2010 began an independent project called Detroit Works to sort ideas on how to reconfigure the city for residences, businesses, green space and even agriculture, a plan due in August.

Meantime, Brown said, the city will fix broken streetlights in certain places even as it discontinues such services as street and sidewalk repairs in “distressed” areas — those with a high degree of blight and little or no commercial activity.

Bing’s plan requires state legislation to create the lighting authority. Governor Rick Snyder supports the plan, said his senior policy adviser, Valerie Brader.
Dark Portents

There’s already experience snuffing out streetlights within Detroit’s borders. Highland Park, a 3-square-mile city encircled by its larger neighbor, removed 1,100 of 1,600 streetlights last year, after piling up a $4 million debt to DTE Energy. The move saves $45,000 a month, said Alejandro Bodipo-Memba, a spokesman for the company.

Only major streets and intersections remain lit in the city of 12,000, once home to Chrysler Group LLC’s namesake car manufacturer and Henry Ford’s first moving assembly line. Mayor DeAndre Windom, 45, said residents at first complained, though few do now. He’s considering grants and private funding to relight darkened streets

Colorado Springs pulled the plug on 9,000 of its 25,600 lights in 2010 to save $1.3 million, said David Krauth, a city traffic engineer. Some were relit as revenue improved, though 3,500 remain dark, saving about $500,000 a year, he said.

In Detroit, some streets have no working lights. Many appear dim or are blocked by trees. And some areas with mostly vacant lots are well-lit.
Night Terrors

A single, broken streetlight on the northeast side brings fear to Cynthia Perry, 55. It hasn’t worked for six years, Perry said in an interview on the darkened sidewalk where she walks from her garage to her house entrance.

“I’m afraid coming in at night,” she said. “I’m not going to seclude myself in the house and never go anywhere.”

In southwest Detroit, businesses on West Vernor Highway, a main commercial thoroughfare, have sought $4 million in private grants to fix the situation themselves. The state would pay $2.5 million, said Kathy Wendler, president of the Southwest Detroit Business Association.

Jamahl Makled, 40, said he’s owned businesses in southwest Detroit for about two decades, most recently cell-phone stores. He said they’ve have been burglarized more than a dozen times.

“In the dark, criminals are comfortable,” Makled said. “It’s not good for the economy and the safety of the residents.”
Antique Lamps

North of there, on a stretch of West Grand Boulevard, the bases of light poles show where thieves tore out the wiring.

As many as 15,000 Detroit streetlights use 1920s technology, according to a 2010 study by McKinsey & Co. Upgrading the system would cost $140 million to $200 million, and $5 million more to operate than the $23 million now spent annually, the report said.

Besides streetlights, the Detroit lighting department provides electricity to 144 customers that include Detroit schools, Wayne State University and local government offices. Almost 22 percent of the city’s electric bills were unpaid, the McKinsey report said.

That’s just one reason Detroit is digging out of a $265 million deficit and saddled with more than $12 billion in long- term debt. To avoid a state takeover, Detroit agreed in April to have its finances overseen by a nine-member board appointed by the city and the state.
Civic Obligations

Delivering services to a thinly spread population is expensive. Some 20 neighborhoods, each a square mile or more, are only 10 to 15 percent occupied, said John Mogk, a law professor at Wayne State University who specializes in urban law and policy. He said the city can’t force residents to move, and it’s almost impossible under Michigan law for the city to seize properties for development.

Mogk said landowners can demand many times what property would fetch on the open market.

“There are tremendous political, administrative, financial and, to some degree, legal obstacles,” Mogk said. “Unless you phase out a neighborhood altogether, you still need lighting, and waste pickup and police and fire protection.”

As Detroit’s streets go dark, some of those neighborhoods may fade away with the dying light.

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Federal Accounting Slight Of Hand Hides Real Federal Deficit: $5 Trillion Last Year – Four Times What Congress Reported – Equal To $42,054 Per Household

May 24, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – The typical American household would have paid nearly all of its income in taxes last year to balance the budget if the government used standard accounting rules to compute the deficit, a USA TODAY analysis finds.

Under those accounting practices, the government ran red ink last year equal to $42,054 per household — nearly four times the official number reported under unique rules set by Congress.

A U.S. household’s median income is $49,445, the Census reports.

The big difference between the official deficit and standard accounting: Congress exempts itself from including the cost of promised retirement benefits. Yet companies, states and local governments must include retirement commitments in financial statements, as required by federal law and private boards that set accounting rules.

The deficit was $5 trillion last year under those rules. The official number was $1.3 trillion. Liabilities for Social Security, Medicare and other retirement programs rose by $3.7 trillion in 2011, according to government actuaries, but the amount was not registered on the government’s books.
Contrasting deficits

The federal government calculates the deficit in a way that makes the number smaller than if standard accounting rules were followed (in trillions).

Deficits are a major issue in this year’s presidential campaign, but USA TODAY has calculated federal finances under accounting rules since 2004 and found no correlation between fluctuations in the deficit and which party ran Congress or the White House.

Key findings:

•Social Security had the biggest financial slide. The government would need $22.2 trillion today, set aside and earning interest, to cover benefits promised to current workers and retirees beyond what taxes will cover. That’s $9.5 trillion more than was needed in 2004.

•Deficits from 2004 to 2011 would be six times the official total of $5.6 trillion reported.

•Federal debt and retiree commitments equal $561,254 per household. By contrast, an average household owes a combined $116,057 for mortgages, car loans and other debts.

“By law, the federal government can’t tell the truth,” says accountant Sheila Weinberg of the Chicago-based Institute for Truth in Accounting.

Jim Horney, a former Senate budget staff expert now at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says retirement programs should not count as part of the deficit because, unlike a business, Congress can change what it owes by cutting benefits or lifting taxes.

“It’s not easy, but it can be done. Retirement programs are not legal obligations,” he says.

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Broke: New Rochelle Cancels 4th Of July, Memorial Day, And Thanksgiving

May 9, 2012

NEW ROCHELLE, NEW YORK – A cash-strapped New York town has had to cancel Fourth of July fireworks and is appealing for donations to save its celebration of America’s birthday.

New Rochelle town officials say the Independence Day display costs $75,000, and was eliminated from the city’s 2012 budget, along with the Memorial Day parade and Thanksgiving parade, which both cost $30,000 to put on.

The costs for those parades include $10,000 for the event and $20,000 for police, fire and emergency service support, the town said.

New Rochelle has asked for donations to help save the holiday celebrations, and so far, enough money has been collected to hold the Memorial Day parade.

Funding for the Thanksgiving parade is also coming in, officials said, but the news for July 4 is bleak.

“Should funds not be raised, this event unfortunately will remain canceled,” the town said.

Mayor Noam Bramson said the town is in a “time of fiscal challenge” and depends on the support of donations to help out.

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Social Security Faces $8.6 Trillion Unfunded Liability – $73 Thousand Dollars Per US Household

April 24, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Social Security faces an unfunded liability of $8.6 trillion, according to the 2012 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds.

The unfunded liability is the amount that has been promised in benefits to people now alive that will not be funded by the tax revenue the system is expected to take in to pay for those benefits. (The Social Security trustees calculate the unfunded liability for a period of 75 years into the future, from 2012 to 2086)

The $8.6 trillion in unfunded benefits Social Security is expected to pay over the next 75 years equals $73,167.83 for each of the 117,538,000 households the Census Bureau said were in the United States in 2010.

However, the report also shows that when considering the unfunded obligations over an “infinite horizon”—the period extending into the indefinite future—the $8.6 trillion shortfall balloons to $20.5 trillion.

“Extending the horizon beyond 75 years increases the measured unfunded obligation,” the report said.

“Through the infinite horizon, the unfunded obligation, or shortfall, equals $20.5 trillion in present value, which represents 3.9 percent of future taxable payroll or 1.3 percent of future GDP,” reads the report.

The report adds that the 2012 estimate for unfunded obligations over the infinite horizon has increased from the $17.9 trillion in the 2011 report.

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Broke: Detroit Michigan Fire Commissioner Wants To Let “Abandoned Buildings” Burn To The Ground

April 23, 2012

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – The Detroit Fire Department could adjust to a looming 15 percent budget cut by allowing some abandoned buildings burn to the ground, according to the city’s top fire official.

Executive Fire Commissioner Donald Austin said his is creating three proposals for Mayor Dave Bing to consider when making deep reductions to the 2012-13 budget, likely to be below this fiscal year’s $183 million. Detroit is going through a state-monitored budget overhaul under a deal reached between Gov. Rick Snyder and city officials, an alternative to a state-appointed emergency manager.

“I’ll give (Bing) every penny I can without cutting people,” said Austin, a former Los Angeles assistant fire chief who became head of Detroit fire operations last May.
Quick Clicks

Detroit stands out from other large U.S. cities and will need to take drastic steps to meet its service needs, he said.

“Name another city in the United States that lost 200,000 people in 10 years,” said Austin, citing U.S. Census figures. “So we’re in a unique position. And I believe it takes unique approaches to deal with situations that are not the norm.”

Wide swaths of Detroit’s once-teeming neighborhoods now consist of scattered occupied homes, surrounded by boarded-up structures, burned-out husks and weed-covered vacant lots.

One of Austin’s proposals would allow vacant buildings to burn if they’re more than 50 percent ablaze — as long as they’re not a risk to inhabited structures and the weather is favorable. Austin said about 40 to 60 percent of the fires in Detroit are in vacant structures.

Another proposal is to ask the U.S. Navy’s construction division, the Seabees, to level 10,000 vacant and dilapidated homes.

And a third is to create a demolition unit in the fire department, Austin said, using heavy equipment to level the remnants of newly burned buildings. The unit would be similar to a tractor company Austin created in Los Angeles to cut breaks around wildfires, maintain hillside fire roads and overhaul large industrial fires.

“When these houses burn up and there’s no value left, I can get my firefighters, with proper training, to raze that house — get rid of it,” he said.

Detroit Fire Fighters Association President Daniel McNamara said he opposes Austin’s idea of letting vacant homes burn, unless they’re on a predetermined demolition list, as is the case in Flint.

“If we could have that kind of communication, we wouldn’t have this kind of discussion right now,” McNamara said.

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Broke: Baltimore Maryland Considers Selling Ads On Sides Of Firetrucks

April 23, 2012

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – With a $48 million budget shortfall for the city, one councilman has an idea that he says will help the deficit: putting advertisements on fire trucks.

Andrea Fujii explains one organization wants to have the first ad with a provocative campaign.

The bright red on the side of fire engines means dollar signs to City Councilman William Pete Welch.

“These are out of the box times and you need out of the box approaches in order to create additional revenue,” Welch said.

The mayor’s said up to three fire companies may close due to the budget shortfall, so Welch is proposing legislation that would allow the fire department to put ads on their trucks, generating revenue that could help keep the companies open.

PETA—People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals—is jumping on the opportunity. They want an ad to make its debut on a city fire truck. In a letter to Welch, they said, in part, “Our…advertisement featuring a sexy woman showing off her vegan physique will drive Baltimore residents to PETA’s heart-healthy vegan recipes that will keep them firing on all cylinders.”

People we spoke to like the idea, but not necessarily the ad.

“I wouldn’t,” said one.

“It wouldn’t really bother me but I think it’s misleading for the message they want to get across,” said another.

But the councilman says his proposal is getting a positive response.

“I’ve had emails from firefighters applauding me for my proactive approach and those I’ve received have been in favor,” he said.

Welch proposed the legislation at Monday’s council meeting. He hasn’t commented on the PETA ad.

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Federal Debt Under President Obama Budget Will Rise To $73,000 Per Person – Was Only $33,000 When He Took Office – Certainly Not The “Change” He Promised During His Initial Campaign…

April 6, 2012

The latest chart from the Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee, showing that under President Obama’s budget plan, debt would be $73,000 per American in 2022:

By contrast, debt per person was still an astonishing $33,000 in 2008, at the end of George W. Bush’s term, and $20,000 in 2000, at the beginning of Bush’s presidency.

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Broke: Passaic New Jersey Considers Charging For Emergency Services

March 30, 2012

PASSAIC, NEW JERSEY – When emergency crews respond to a car or building fire in Passaic, a bill might soon be sent out.

WCBS 880′s Levon Putney On The Story

When the Passaic City Council meets next Tuesday, Mayor Alex Blanco said what they will not decide to do is levy fees against people in car accidents or building owners whose structures catch fire.

What they will do is go after the insurance companies.

“If you are a policy owner, you are already paying for it — this fire department service charge provision,” the mayor told WCBS 880 reporter Levon Putney on Friday.

He said the fees would only be applied if claims are made, and no fees would be levied for those without insurance.

There would be a $1,000 fee to respond to fires in buildings over four stories high. Single, two, and three-family homes would be exempt.

As for car fires, auto insurance would be billed $600.

Of course, a concern is that insurance companies will simply jack up their premiums.

“I feel that it would be unethical on their part,” Blanco said.

This is just the latest way the city is trying to deal with its budget woes, including elimination of free Sunday parking and charging for designated handicapped parking.

“We have lost $2 million in [state] aide,” said Blanco.

He said he believes these fees would raise about $200,000 a year.

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Broke: Baltimore Maryland Considerings Selling 15 Publicly Owned Historic Sites

March 26, 2012

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – More than a dozen historic landmarks in Baltimore may be up for sale soon.

But as Gigi Barnett reports, the city first wants to know how much they will bring in first.

The city says its historic buildings are a liability, an eyesore and a drain on its pockets.

Baltimore’s Shot Tower was the tallest building in the nation back in 1828 and became a national historic landmark in the early 1970s. The city says it wants to know how much the Shot Tower is worth to a private developer.

“We have some great properties in unique locations and we hope we can find the right kind of marriage to make it work,” said City Director of Planning Thomas Stosur.

The city is weighing the costs of selling or leasing about 15 of its historic sites. Selling the real estate could beef up the city’s cash-strapped budget, as some of the properties are abandoned, old and dilapidated.

Stosur says a consultant is coming in to appraise the sites.

“Real estate is location, location, location. That’s why we’re hiring a specific firm to go in and look because they’re unique properties,” Stosur said.

Some residents say the plan would save city history.

“If they could find a buyer that would do the work and maintain it, I think it would be a good thing,” said resident Durward Center.

Roland Park’s water tower is also on the list. Originally built back in 1905, the tower became defunct in 1930 and in recent years has fallen into grave disrepair. Some Roland Park residents, however, say the tower belongs to the public.

“They’re part of Baltimore. They’re historic landmarks. I don’t think anyone should own them. It should be a Baltimore thing,” said resident Liz Wildt.

Of the 15 sites, 12 of them are protected by a historic landmark designation. That means any developer who buys or leases them must first get their plans approved.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recently asked the city’s spending board to approve $46,000 in consultant fees to appraise the historic sites.

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Broke Nassau County New York Goes After Schools With Illegal Toilet Tax

March 23, 2012

EAST WILLISTON, NEW YORK — Schools in Nassau County have joined together to try and flush away a new fee they say will literally drain their budgets.

Every flush in every school could soon cost taxpayers, thanks to a new sewer use fee. However, school districts are fighting back against what they’ve dubbed a “toilet tax,” reports CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff.

“It is absurd,” East Williston School Board President Mark Kamberg said Tuesday.

Especially, critics said, at Wheatley School, which doesn’t even have sewers.

“We have septic tanks and the water seeps into the ground,” Kamberg said.

Wheatley’s water goes into its own tanks, the ground or it gets consumed. Yet Wheatley, like all of Nassau’s schools, is expected to pay the new sewer fee imposed by County Executive Ed Mangano, who in effect said for too long not-for-profits have been getting a free flush.

“The free ride is over and homeowners will no longer subsidize this expense,” Mangano said.

However, schools have warned they’ll have to raise taxes to pay the fee.

“They have shifted the burden of sewer tax onto the back of school districts,” Kamberg said.

In all, 19 school districts have joined together to sue Nassau, saying the flushing fee is illegal.

“This is clearly a tax and the reality is that school districts are tax-exempt organizations,” said Greg Guercio, the attorney for the school districts.

The one penny-per gallon fee translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars for bigger school districts. For East Williston, it would amount to $87,000 this year alone.

“For us, it’s a large amount of money. It’s like a teacher salary,” East Williston Assistant Superintendent for Business Jackie Fitzpatrick said.

The fight will likely go to trial. While the case is pending districts don’t have to pay the fee, but have to budget for it, and that could mean raising taxes.

Other not-for-profits like houses of worship and fire houses will not be required to pay the new fee.

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Broke: Feds Consider Closing Federal Courthouses To Save Money – Which Would Make It Difficult Or Impossible For The Poor To Access Courts In Some Areas

March 22, 2012

LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS – The federal government is considering closing dozens of courtrooms, many of which are located in small, rural communities, as part of an effort to cut costs.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show 60 federal court facilities in 29 states could be on the chopping block. Most of the courtrooms are in buildings that house other federal agencies including post offices and many are located in remote areas. Critics say closing them could make it more difficult for people to get to court proceedings.

Six of the 60 court sites that could be closed are located in Arkansas. Texas and Georgia each have five sites on the list of possible closures. Officials are even considering shuttering the location where judges hold federal court in Alaska’s capital city, Juneau.

There are 674 federal courthouses and facilities around the country, according to David Sellers, a federal courts spokesman. The 60 sites being considered for closure do not have a resident judge. Instead, judges based in larger cities travel to these smaller locations as needed.

In the documents obtained by the AP, the court facilities that could close were ranked based on a variety of categories including cost, usage and location. Of the 10 facilities that seem most likely to be eyed for closure, two are in Arkansas, two are in South Carolina, and the rest are spread out between West Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland. A facility in Beaufort, S.C., tops the list, followed by the federal court site in Parkersburg, W.V. and one in Harrison, Ark.

The court sites are not the only targets that the federal government is taking aim at in rural parts of the country. As pressure mounts to trim spending, the government has considered closing post offices and eliminating federal subsidies for carriers that serve airports in rural communities and small towns.

“The federal judiciary is going through an aggressive cost containment effort because the money Congress has provided for the operating expenses for the courts has been essentially frozen the last three years,” Sellers said in an email. He said a significant portion of those funds are used to pay rent for federal court facilities.

The practice of reviewing court facilities that don’t have a resident judge goes back to 1997, Sellers said.

A committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, a policy-making body for the federal courts, sent the latest list to the 13 circuit judicial councils for review in February, Sellers said. They’re supposed to get back to the committee by mid-April.

The committee will then review the recommendations and forward its report to the Judicial Conference, which could decide whether to close any of the court sites at its September meeting, Sellers said.

Documents obtained by the AP show that annual operating costs and rent for the 60 facilities total more than $16 million each year, but other costs were not known. Sellers said it’s too early to speculate how much could be saved or how many jobs could be lost by the possible closures.

“It would depend on what, if any, facilities are closed, when the closure would occur, the rent on the particular facility, staff located at the facility, other needs in the circuit, as well as many other factors that vary from facility to facility,” Sellers said.

J. Leon Holmes, the chief federal judge of the Eastern District of Arkansas, argued that closing court facilities wouldn’t make a significant reduction in the federal budget.

“If the federal courts close their facilities in these places, the money will quit going from one pocket of the federal government to another pocket of the federal government, but little or no savings to the taxpayers will be seen,” Holmes wrote in a letter dated Feb. 23 and sent to local bar associations. “Instead, the taxpayers will be forced to travel longer distances to appear in court as parties, witnesses, or jurors.”

Holmes, who is based in Little Rock, specifically spoke against closing the Batesville, Ark., court site, which ranked seventh on the possible closure list.

“Travel through the mountains in this region of Arkansas is exclusively on two-lane highways,” he wrote. “Consequently, the actual driving time from one point to another is much greater than may appear in looking on a map or in calculating distances.”

Batesville, a city of 10,000, is about 70 miles from the nearest federal court in Jonesboro, but that site is also on the list. It’s about 100 miles from Batesville to Little Rock, which has the only federal courtrooms in the Eastern District of Arkansas that aren’t on the chopping block.

Holmes also said he was concerned that the possible closures would affect a relatively poor region.

“Many of the persons in the poorer and more remote areas of our state cannot easily travel to Little Rock to attend bankruptcy court or any other proceeding,” Holmes wrote.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich also questioned the impact the possible closures in Fairbanks, Ketchikan and Juneau could have on residents who would have to drive hundreds of miles or buy a ticket to attend a court proceeding.

“It would be a disservice to Alaskans in these cities – to arbitrarily shut off their access to the federal courts,” the Democrat said in a statement Thursday.

Fred Triem, an attorney who works in Juneau and Petersburg, Alaska, said while he applauds the idea of saving money, the closures could mean hardship for people who have federal court business and no federal court.

“If you’re a poor person in Juneau, Alaska, and there’s no federal court building, then how are you going to have your bankruptcy hearing?” he asked Thursday. “Are you going to have to pay your travel to go to Anchorage when you don’t even have enough money to pay your electric bill?”

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New Jersey State Offices May Be Forced To Close Due To Lack Of Toilet Paper

March 14, 2012

TRENTON, NEW JERSEY – Trenton’s Health Department could shut down some city buildings if a toilet paper shortage isn’t resolved soon.

“It could be an inconvenience for anybody, young, old, male, female,” said Maryann Wooten of Hamilton Township.

The toilet paper and paper towel supply for at least 11 buildings, including City Hall, are dangerously low.

“We have one box with about 15 rolls of toilet paper and that’s it,” acting Public Works Director Harold Hall said.

Hall says a City Council resolution to order more paper supplies, including paper cups, was voted down. Some council members didn’t think the cash-strapped city needed to buy the cups.

“I told them I would take the cups out and re-submit the request,” Hall said.

City Councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson said that she isn’t sure it was a legal request.

“Once you bid and give in a contract, you can’t remove something from a bid. You have to pull it back, you have to cancel it and then you have to re-bid it,” said Caldwell-Wilson.

The city’s legal department reviewed her concern before Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

“I think some council members are so full of blank. They can’t even pass a resolution to purchase toiletries. By putting their agenda before the public’s agenda, they are jeopardizing the city’s ability to keep open senior and rec centers and city buildings,” said Mayor Tony Mack.

Trenton Police Department’s PBA President says he filed complaints with the State and Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offices for his building, which has no supplies and operates 24/7. He says many employees are forced to bring their own rolls.

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Lies: White House Website Still Advertising Broken Obama Promise To Cut Deficit In Half

February 17, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – When President Obama unveiled his budget on Monday, it became clear that he would break his pledge to cut the deficit in half in his first term in office. But the White House website is still prominently touting the promise.

When visitors to the White House website click on “Fiscal Responsibility” under the “Issues” section, they are directed to a page that includes the following:

Cut the deficit in half by the end of the President’s first term. On January 20, 2009, the President inherited a $1.3 trillion budget deficit. The President has put forth a budget that will halve this deficit by the end of his first term, bring non-defense discretionary spending to its lowest level as a share of GDP since 1962.

Though that would mean cutting the deficit to $650 billion, Obama’s budget projects deficits of $1.3 trillion in fiscal year 2012 (ending this September) and $901 billion for fiscal year 2013. Non-defense discretionary spending is not at the lowest level since 1962, either (more like 2008 or 2001, depending on whether you’re comparing it to this year or next).

This was brought to my attention by blogger Pundit Pete, who also notes that when pressed on this broken promise on Fox News Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew tried to chalk it up to the economic picture having deteriorated after Obama made the initial pledge, stating, “as the 2009 and 2010 went on, we all learned more about the deep of the recession we inherited, which we have very — worked very hard to dig out of.”

Of course, this doesn’t explain why the White House website continues to promote the pledge, knowing what we know now.

Ironically, the White House website also includes this vow:

Return to honest budgeting. Too often in the past several years, budget tricks were used to make the government’s books seem stronger than they actually were. The President put forward a budget that rejects many of these gimmicks, most notably, the exclusion of war costs.

But in reality, one of the biggest gimmicks in Obama’s budget is that it relies on phony “war savings,” which pretends that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan would be fought at full force in perpetuity and counts money that would have never been spent anyway as deficit reduction.

Looks like the White House website could use some updating.

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Broke: Detroit Stops Police Escorts For Funeral Processions

December 7, 2011

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – Getting a police escort for a funeral procession was a common service at one time. But as WWJ’s Rob Sanford reports, budget concerns have forced Detroit to join other major cities in ending the practice.

Budget deficits and declining personnel are the major forces behind the Detroit Police Department’s decision to end free funeral escorts. Police Chief Ralph Godbee said it’s a drain on resources and is unfair for officers to accompany some processions and not others.

Godbee said he plans to talk with funeral homes about offering police escorts for customers who chose it as part of the cost of a funeral. It’s not clear how much the service costs and there are no rules to cover who gets a police escort and who doesn’t.

The Motor City is one of the last major cities to offer the free service, but it’s been determined it’s just too expensive to continue. Other cities that have recently made the same decision include Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Atlanta, some citing traffic safety issues.

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Broke: Smithfield North Carolina Police May Start Ignoring 911 Calls To Save Money

November 3, 2011

SMITHFIELD, NORTH CAROLINA – Police say they’ll stop responding to some 911 calls and stop investigating misdemeanors if the town doesn’t increase funding for gasoline – the latest episode in a standoff between the police chief and Town Council, which is trying to save money.

It’s also the latest sign of how tight municipal budgets are impacting services throughout the Triangle.

On Tuesday, the Smithfield Police Department will present dire predictions of how an austere budget could leave police cars in park.

Police Chief Michael Scott will ask the town council to let him use $30,000 of office supply and equipment repair money to pay for gas. He says his department has already cut patrols, halving the numbers of cars on the street at certain times.

Scott said three recent crimes might have been prevented with more patrols – the armed robbery of a convenience store, the theft of tires and rims from a car dealership and a major cocaine bust.

“Those things can all be directly related to patrol issues,” he said, adding that he’s gotten complaints about the reduced patrols. Some callers have asked if they should buy guns to protect themselves.

Law enforcement agencies around the country have seen budget cuts this year.

Here in North Carolina, the state Highway Patrol is coping with an $8 million reduction, and they’ve stopped training new cadets as part of a hiring freeze. The city of Raleigh recently delayed police and fire academies by six months.

Smithfield’s cuts went beyond personnel, with fuel funding down $10,000, or about 14 percent, from last fiscal year. Scott said that even with reduced patrols, the department will be out of gas by February.

This month, council members in the Johnston County town balked at Scott’s proposal to shift funds in his budget. They asked the police department to study alternatives to the plan.

The alternatives that police will present Tuesday include unprecedented cuts to stay within the current budget. Department leaders say detectives will only investigate felony crimes, dropping misdemeanors after the initial report is done.

The new plan also calls for ignoring 911 calls from hotels and pay phones when callers hang up, “as a very high percentage of these calls are errors in dialing.” And police would stop responding to burglar alarms, since they’re often a false alarm. Also, officers wouldn’t patrol the western or southern ends of town, since most crimes there aren’t violent.

Councilman Perry Harris said town leaders won’t let that happen. “There’s no question that we need to provide them with the tools to keep the safety of the town,” he said.

But with enough gas money to work through February, Harris wants the department to look for other money-saving measures first. Since the town recently bought 10 new squad cars, he thinks 10 older vehicles could be sold off. “I think we need to uncover every rock and every stone to see other areas where we could save some money,” he said.

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Broke: Texas Cuts Back On Inmate Meals In Jails

October 22, 2011

TEXAS – Prisoners in Texas jails have been tightening their belts as the state cuts back on weekend lunches to save money.

Since April, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has scaled back on weekend meals to two per day, eliminating lunch.

Department spokesman Jason Clark said that prisoners in certain institutions — including jails where inmates are serving two years or less and transfer facilities — are now getting only “brunch” and dinner. However, he insisted that the nutritional value remains the same.

“The brunch and dinner meals provide the same number of servings of each food group as is served during the week, but those servings are distributed over two meals instead of three,” wrote Clark, in an e-mail to CNNMoney.

He said this two-meal rule does not apply to inmates who are “prescribed a therapeutic diet by a physician.”

The elimination of lunch is part of the state’s effort to save $2.8 million during the current fiscal year.

“The decision to serve two meals on the weekend was prompted by the statewide budgetary challenges and consistent with funding decisions made by the Texas Legislature,” Clark said.

Brunch is served from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., he said, and dinner is served from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Lisa Graybill, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas, said that depriving prisoners of meals is less “impactful,” in terms of saving money, compared to releasing some of the low-level offenders in the “overincarcerated” jail system.

“I think it’s a poor substitute for some of the policy making that could really dial down the number [of prisoners,]” she said.

The average cost of feeding an inmate was $3.37 per day in fiscal 2010, said Clark, who did not have an estimate for savings.

He said this cost-saving measure is unrelated to a recent suspension of customized last meals for death row inmates. Prisoners facing execution have traditionally been allowed to choose their last meal.

But Clark said that practice ended Sept. 22, after a Texas state senator, John Whitmore, expressed indignation over the appetite of convicted murderer Lawrence Brewer.

Brewer, a white supremacist, was executed for last month for killing a black man in 1998 by dragging him from a truck. When Brewer faced imminent execution, this is what he ordered for his last meal, according to the department:

— Two chicken-fried steaks “smothered in gravy” with sliced onions

— Triple-patty bacon cheeseburger

— Cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapeños

— Bowl of fried okra with ketchup

— One pound of barbecue with a half loaf of white bread

— Three fajitas

— One pint of Blue Bell ice cream

— Meat lover’s pizza

— Slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts

— Three root beers

“The last meal was made for him and brought to him, and he didn’t eat it,” said Clark, noting that Brewer was the last and final inmate to receive a special last meal.

Clark said the next inmate scheduled for execution in Texas is convicted murderer Frank Garcia, who faces lethal injection on Oct. 27.

Garcia can blame Brewer for his lack of a special last meal.

“He’ll be served whatever the other inmates are eating that day,” said Clark

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Neighorhoods Go Dark – 1400 Streetlights Repossessed After Highland Park Michigan Can’t Pay Bills

October 11, 2011

HIGHLAND PARK, MICHIGAN – Most of the city’s street lights have been repossessed because officials failed to pay a multimillion-dollar utility bill, giving rise to concerns about safety and crime in darkened neighborhoods.

DTE Energy crews have removed about 1,400 light poles from Highland Park as part of a settlement that allowed the city to avoid paying $4 million in unpaid bills going back several years. DTE, which says the work will be completed by Oct. 31, has replaced 200 lights with newer models on street corners, but most neighborhoods remain in the dark.

Highland Park, plagued by financial trouble, was able to reduce its monthly utility bill from $62,000 to $15,000, an amount officials say fits the city’s budget.

But residents and business owners complain that the resulting darkness is like a welcome mat for criminals.

“After they took the street light from in front of my business, someone climbed onto my roof and stole an air conditioning unit,” said Bobby Hargrove, owner of Hargrove Machinery Sales on Oakland Avenue, who also claims a police officer asked him for money to beef up his protection. “I feel like I’m being punished — I’ve always paid my bills on time, but they took the street light anyway.”

Highland Park Mayor Hubert Yopp insists that crime has not increased since the lights were removed.

“I had the police chief work up the crime stats, and found that most of our burglaries are taking place during the daylight hours,” Yopp said.

But resident Robert Davis, secretary of the city’s school board, said three schools were broken into at night, right after the street lights were removed. “Thankfully, DTE agreed to put new lights in front of the schools, although they’re not all up yet,” he said.

DTE spokesman Len Singer said Highland Park is “a unique situation.”

“We did everything we could to try to help the city come to a level of service they could manage,” Singer said. “We wanted to work with the city to maintain some level of service, and do so in a way that would allow the city to cover the bill each month. They simply weren’t able to maintain the costs for having all the previous lights.”

Singer said the utility is under no obligation to maintain service to communities that don’t pay their bills. “But obviously, we wanted to work with the city to provide some lighting for their residents and businesses,” he said.

DTE began removing the light poles in August, rather than just cutting off the power, to avoid lawsuits and confusion, he said.

“Mostly, it was a liability issue; we didn’t want to have poles there that were de-energized, and likely won’t ever be energized again,” Singer said. “Also, we wanted to avoid the confusion of having lights up that don’t work. In the end, we figured it was better to just take them out.”

Some cities own their street poles and pay DTE for the electricity. “But we own the lights in Highland Park,” Singer said.

The old poles were sold as scrap metal, Singer said. The 200 new poles will be fed power via overhead lines, rather than underground, which makes maintenance easier, Singer said.

Hargrove claims a Highland Park police officer tried to cash in on his loss.

“He contacted me about a week after my air conditioner was stolen and told me he’d make sure my place didn’t get broken into — if I paid him $650 every two weeks,” he said. “That’s like paying protection to the Mafia.”

Hargrove reported the alleged incident to city officials. Yopp said he’s investigating the claim.

“Our residents already pay for police protection; we’d better not be charging them twice,” he said. “I’m definitely going to get to the bottom of this.”

Jessie Flowers, 85, who has lived in Highland Park since 1947, said she’s “not happy” about the situation.

“I’m concerned about people breaking into my house,” she said. “The street lights should be on.

“I’m so flabbergasted I don’t even know what to do.”

Yopp said he understands the frustration and is trying to secure federal or state funding to restore lighting to the city’s neighborhoods.

“We’re no longer in debt, and our bill is lower each month,” he said. “But I’m certainly not happy about the level of lighting in the city, and I’m doing whatever I can to work something out.”

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Topeka Kansas Joins Shawne County – Not Prosecuting Domestic Violence And Misdemeanor Cases – City And County Out Of Money

October 10, 2011

TOPEKA, KANSAS – Cash-strapped Topeka, Kansas, has decided to stop prosecuting domestic violence casses in order to save money.

The City Council announced the proposal Oct. 4, after the Shawnee County District Attorney’s office announced it could no longer prosecute misdemeanors, including domestic violence cases. The city’s maneuver may even require repealing the part of the city code that bans domestic battery. Mayor Bill Bunten told the Topeka Capital-Journal city officials take domestic violence seriously, and it would be “dead wrong” to assume offenders won’t be prosecuted. But the dispute is over who would pay for it, he said.

Shawnee County has already dropped 30 domestic violence cases since it stopped prosecuting the crime on Sept. 8. Some 16 people have been arrested for misdemeanor domestic battery charges and then released after charges were not filed.

County District Attorney Chad Taylor has reportedly offered to review all misdemeanor cases filed in Topeka for potential prosecution, including those now handled by the city’s municipal court, in exchange for a one-time payment of $350,000 from the city.

The Topeka YWCA said the problem must be resolved.

“When an abusive partner is arrested, the victim’s danger level increases,” Becky Dickinson, interim director of the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment, told the Capital-Journal. “The abuser will often become more violent in an attempt to regain control. Letting abusive partners out of jail with no consequences puts victims in incredibly dangerous positions.”

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San Francisco California Superior Court Running Out Of Money, Plans Cutbacks And Layoffs – Divorces To Now Take A Year Or Two

August 19, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – It takes at least six months to get a divorce in San Francisco, and now unhappy couples can add at least a year to that, thanks to planned budget cuts to the Superior Court.

Katherine Feinstein, the Superior Court’s presiding judge, gave a dire outlook to reporters at a Monday news conference, reiterating the court’s plan to lay off 200 employees and close 25 courtrooms in late September.

The budget recently approved by Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature sliced hundreds of millions of dollars from state courts. San Francisco is facing a $13.75 million deficit, or 15.6 percent of its operating budget.

“We’re left with one painful, unprecedented option, which is a reduction in service that is so severe that it will, for all practical purposes, dismantle our court,” Feinstein said.

Most of the effects will be felt in civil cases, where litigants can anticipate years of delays, according to Feinstein. Reduced office hours for court clerks will make filing and obtaining information more difficult. Feinstein warned of long hours waiting in line just to pay a traffic ticket, and months to get a copy of a criminal or civil court record.

While state law allows for a final decree of divorce after six months and one day, “We anticipate adding a year to that time, which obviously will leave many families in a very uncomfortable state,” Feinstein said.

The court is planning to close one of its three family law courtrooms, according to court spokeswoman Ann Donlan.

Additionally, court family law services — such as a self-help center for those who don’t have attorneys, mediation and case management by judges in contested divorces — are thinly stretched now and will likely become worse, Donlan said.

San Francisco attorney Yasmine Mehmet, a family law specialist, said the court’s planned cuts would be “devastating, really, for a lot of people.”

Divorce is often a very emotional matter, especially where children are involved, Mehmet said. Delays in contested cases will likely only make them more difficult.

“It’s going to push people to really think long and hard about whether they do or don’t want to settle,” she said.

Mehmet said more couples might turn to private judges, a quicker but more costly option.

But many might not be able to afford alternatives.

“What I think is among the most painful things is that we are the place people can come — and we are not free, but we are significantly less expensive than all the private alternative resolution services are,” Feinstein said.

aburack@sfexaminer.com

 

Anticipated court budget impacts

    Hours standing in line to pay a traffic ticket or criminal fine at the Hall of Justice
    Months to obtain criminal and civil records
    Years to resolve many civil cases, including at least a year and a half on divorce cases
    Reduced self-help services for litigants without attorneys
    Reduced hours in clerks’ offices

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Broke: Detroit Michigan Police Stop Responding To Burglar Alarms

August 15, 2011

DETROIT, MICHIGAN Detroit police are making some
changes regarding burglar alarms in what appears is an attempt to keep
more officers on the streets.

A memo, obtained by WWJ Newsradio 950, says the Detroit Police
Department has reviewed calls for service and found that false alarms
have the greatest financial and staffing impact on the department.

According to the memo, sent to alarm companies and signed by Detroit
Police Chief Ralph Godbee, 98 percent of alarms handled by the DPD are
false.

Effective Monday, August 22, the police department will no longer
respond to burglar alarm calls from monitoring companies unless the
alarm company verifies the alarm.

That can be by have a security guard go to the business or home and
verify an officer needs to respond, or having the homeowner or business
owner go to the premises and verify a break in.

Verification can also be from remote observation which some alarm companies already have in place.

The memo does note that the DPD will continue to respond to human-activated alarms, including hold-up, panic or duress.

View a copy of the memo (.pdf format) –

The changes will take effect a little over a week following a 24-hour rash of gun violence in the city, during which 16 people were shot and seven were killed.

WWJ has a call in to Detroit Police for comment.


Broke-Ass City Of Detroit Michigan Still Spending – $1,092 Each For Chairs Amid $2.3 Million Library Remodel

April 22, 2011

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – Detroit Public Library officials say finances have grown so bad they could close most neighborhood branches, but in a few weeks plan to unveil a revamped wing of a main library that even administrators say spares few expenses.

The South Wing is stocked with 20 yellow and orange European lounge chairs that cost $1,092 apiece, artistic pendant light fixtures and two alcohol-burning fireplaces. The project morphed from a $300,000 furniture update to a $2.3 million overhaul with new floors, study rooms, lighting and built-in, wood-framed book shelves.

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“$1,100 per chair is reckless spending for a public institution,” said Todd Kelly, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1259, which represents 125 workers, including clerks, janitors and security staffers.

“It would be easier to swallow the current situation if we didn’t see things like that.”

It’s not the only spending to come under question as the system considers closing up to 18 of 23 branches and laying off as many as 191 of 333 workers. A Detroit News review showed that, since 2008, the library has paid at least $160,000 to food vendors, including $1,760 at an ice-cream shop, and spent $1 million on 6 percent raises to union workers at a time counterparts in City Hall took 10 percent pay cuts.

Executive Director Jo Anne Mondowney agreed the South Wing renovation was costly and that too much has been spent on food. But she said she’s only been on the job for about 19 months and isn’t responsible for much of the spending.

Construction was approved by the library board the same month she started the job, but commission minutes show that the $624,000 contract for furniture and shelving was approved under her watch in May 2010. Mondowney said she didn’t know who approved the chairs, which will be used by patrons, and that her staff tried unsuccessfully to return them.

“We are looking carefully and monitoring all of our expenses and revenues,” said Mondowney, who also said she’s cut down on food spending.

“There were some things we couldn’t undo. The tiger was out of the house. I have focused staff to become much more mindful of our spending.”

Union leaders argue the $2.3 million, which came from operational funds, could have helped reduce an $11 million shortfall.

But Edward Thomas, chairman of the library commission, said the South Wing spending has no connection to the library’s current financial crisis. The library is funded by a 4.63 mill tax and officials project revenues will drop 20 percent per year until 2015 because of declining property values and population. The tax that generated about $40 million in 2010 is only expected to produce $14 million by 2015.

“Our monthly payroll is $2 million,” Thomas said. “When you have a situation like this, people are looking for someone to blame. I just think some things are being made more of than they are. The root cause is really the decline in property taxes.”

Commissioner Anthony Adams said the board must “learn from its past mistakes.”

“You really can’t justify $1,100 chairs,” said Adams, who joined the board this year and has investigated the South Wing spending.

“I don’t think there was any ill will, but it just doesn’t look right in the current climate.”
Wing was ‘dilapidated’

Library Deputy Director Juliet Machie defended the renovation, saying it was a badly needed update that administrators and commissioners approved in 2008 when the system had a rainy day fund of nearly $35 million. The fund is at $17 million now, some of which will be tapped for the projected shortfall.

The 44,000-square-foot, two-story wing hasn’t had new furniture since it was built in 1965 and was “dilapidated and dreary,” said Machie, who helped lead the project under former Director Nancy Skowronski. Machie also was interim director for three months in the summer of 2009, before Mondowney came on in September 2009.

“It was pretty beat up,” Machie said. “The staff had been asking, ‘Can we do something?'”

Machie said the initial price of $300,000 was an estimate and commissioners knew it would increase. In January 2009, commissioners approved spending $1.5 million on the project. The commissioners are appointed by the Detroit Board of Education.

Skowronski, who retired, didn’t return a call for comment.

Machie said officials argued about the value of the two fireplaces — which cost $5,021 apiece — but she said staff pushed for them because they had seen them in suburban libraries. The 24 pendant light fixtures hanging above computers cost $531 each.

Machie said she wouldn’t have approved the chairs because they can be easily damaged. She said she has had to remove new leather chairs from the Skillman branch downtown and replace them with wooden ones after homeless people defecated on them.

Thomas said the Allermuir-brand chairs would not have been his choice, but “the public is entitled to have a comfortable place to come and read.”
Food spending examined

The library’s food tab also faces questions.

Spending with food vendors totaled $55,800 in 2008, $61,400 in 2009 and $40,600 in 2010, according to a Detroit News review of the library’s checks. Some of the most frequent caterers were downtown’s Lunchtime Global, Genet Your Everyday Gourmet and La Azteca Ice Cream in southwest Detroit.

Mondowney said most food was provided for the public at events but some was just for staff.

“I saw it as something we need to be mindful of,” Mondowney said. “Food service is not a necessary part of doing business.”

But records show about $5,400 has been spent on food vendors so far in January and February of this year.

Adams said food expenses have to be cut.

“You can’t justify spending money on food when you are closing branches,” Adams said.
Project a shadow over talks

Library leaders are meeting with union employees now to try to get them to accept concessions to trim their shortfall.

But Adams said concerns over the South Wing spending are dominating the discussion. Union representatives also have criticized a failed fundraising effort. The News first reported in February that the library set aside $200,000 in taxpayer money two years ago to launch a $20-million fundraising campaign for construction projects. But less than $100 was raised.

Kelly, with AFSCME Local 1259, said the union was surprised when library leaders proposed their 6 percent raise.

“We would have settled for 2 percent when we saw what the city was dealing with,” Kelly said.

Michael Wells, president of UAW Local 2200, representing about 120 library staffers, said the raise is justified but will be difficult to give up because some members believe library administrators were more concerned about keeping up with plush suburban facilities than being fiscally responsible.

“What we need to do is live within our budget,” said Wells. “We look to them for leadership and what do we get in return?”

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Broke State Of Alabama Closing Forensics Labs

April 14, 2011

MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA – Adding $350,000 to the budget is not enough to save three forensic satellite offices and they will close, probably some time this summer, according to the state forensics director.

“I needed $850,000 to keep them open and carry us through Sept. 31 (the end of the fiscal year),” state Forensics Director Michael Sparks said Wednesday.

“(The Legislature) found $350,000, which was cut 15 percent, giving us only $297,500. I appreciate what they gave us and I’ll go as far as I can, but it will not take us to Oct. 1.”

Sparks said while other state agencies are laying off employees because of budget cuts, he is trying not to. He said closing satellite offices in Florence, Jacksonville and Dothan will help him keep employees.

He said the employees — 15 at the three offices — will be moved to regional labs.

Sparks said as it stands now, the Florence office will merge with Huntsville, the Dothan office will merge with Montgomery and the Jacksonville office will become a part of Birmingham.

“We don’t have an exact time yet (to close the offices). We’ll look at that in the next few weeks and make that decision, but we can’t go until the end of summer,” he said.

Area law enforcement officials thought the problem had been worked out and the Florence office would stay open until the end of the fiscal year.

“We were informed last week that everything had been worked out so the office would be open for a while longer and then they would look for funding for next year — now this,” Muscle Shoals Police Chief Robert Evans said.

State Rep. Greg Burdine, D-Florence, was caught off guard when he found out Wednesday about the decision.

“I don’t understand this,” he said. “I thought everything had been worked out. We knew we were going to have to go back and get more money, but we thought this $350,000 was going to get things handled for the rest of the fiscal year.”

The three offices scheduled to close do mostly drug testing. The Florence office covers six counties and has assisted other labs in handling backlogs of drug analyses.

Local departments now go to the Huntsville forensic lab for services such as DNA testing, ballistics and autopsies. With the Florence lab closing, they will be forced to go to Huntsville with drug cases.

“I talked with Sparks last week and tried to plead our case, but I didn’t get anywhere,” Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing said.

Rushing said he asked Sparks how much it would save the department to close the three labs.

“He said there were other factors that went into the decision, (including) the cost of the building and utilities,” Rushing said.

Sparks said he did not know how much it costs to operate the three departments. He said expenses varied from department to department.

“My question is, if the salaries aren’t going away, where are the savings other than the cost of the lease or rent of the building and the utilities,” Evans said. “To me, it doesn’t add up.”

Sparks said he understands closing the satellite offices could put a hardship on smaller departments. He suggested sending the drugs to the department by mail, UPS or FedEx.

“There’s not any law enforcement agency in the state that would send illegal drugs to a lab by mail,” Rushing said.

Many law enforcement agencies said the closings will force them to rethink how and when they take drugs to the lab to be tested.

“We’ll likely wait and not go but once a month,” Killen Police Chief Mark Parker said. “I can’t afford to have a man go to Huntsville once or twice a week and have to sit there and wait to turn the evidence over.”

Colbert County Sheriff Ronnie May agreed.

“We’ll have to look at going once or twice a month and taking 15 to 20 cases at a time, which will cause a backlog,” May said. “That’s what made the lab in Florence so important. We could get the results quicker. This is a blow to law enforcement in the area.”

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Broke State Of Alabama May Stop Having Court Sessions On Fridays To Save Money

April 14, 2011

HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA – An empty courtroom at the Madison County Courthouse could become the norm, at least one day a week. Attorney, Chris Wooten says, “basically what the Chief Justice is having to do, is because of state budget cuts, is give every chief judge in every county the option of closing down the county courthouse on Fridays.”

Wooten says that decision along with an order to reduce the number of weeks allotted for trials will slow down the justice system. “The court, in addition to having to cram everything into four days instead of five, would only be able to hear half as many trials in any given year,” says Wooten.

According to Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, it’s a cost cutting measure. She says employees will still work five days a week. But, they need the extra day to make up for last year’s layoffs and another 150 employees losing their jobs on May 1st. Wooten says, “Everybody that is left at the courthouse is going to be doing their job plus the other folks job. So, that is when this Friday paperwork catch up time, that is when they are actually going to do it.”

Jurors will also be asked to voluntarily forgo juror pay and mileage for trips to the courthouse. Former juror, Jim Rozell says, “people that work for themselves like me won’t be making anything and be losing money and half to pay for gas to come down there.”

Giving up juror pay is not the only way Alabamians might be asked to chip in. Cobb says she hopes the legislature will provide money to the court system by increasing Alabama’s cigarette tax by one dollar per pack. But, Madison County resident, Oneal Seagrobes says, “There’s other ways to cut costs, raising taxes is not going to solve it.”

Wooten says any way you look at it, these changes will only slow down a process that is already slow in the first place. “The current average time from when a case is filed to when it is finally adjudicated here in Madison County is between 18 and 24 months.”

Madison County Circuit Judge Karen Hall says she hopes to keep the Madison County Courts open five days a week as long as she can. She is going to meet with all Madison County judges early next week.

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Broke-Ass New York City To Close 20 Fire Companies To Save Money

April 6, 2011

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The secret is out.

CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer has learned exclusively some of the fire houses on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s chopping block. Some say shutting them down could put your safety at risk.

Twenty fire companies are on death row including, sources said, Engine 271 in Bushwick. And unless there’s a last-minute reprieve communities all across the city across could be in danger.

“It’s very serious. Mayor Bloomberg is asking the Fire Department to roll the dice on public safety. If you close one fire company, let alone 20, even one fire company will impact the safety of New Yorkers,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, D-Queens.

“When response time goes up you’re talking about loss of property and loss of life,” added Councilman James Vacca.

Vacca is all fired up about the expectation that Ladder 53 on City Island — in his district — is on the closure list.

“We know our budget is bad but no one can justify jeopardizing life and limb and public safety,” Vacca said.

Sources told Kramer that others expected to be on death row are Engine 161 on Staten Island and Engine 4 at the South Street Seaport.

When Engine 4 left the firehouse on a call Wednesday, firefighters wondered whether it would be among their last in the dense Wall Street area near ground zero.

Kramer asked fire union official Edward Boles to explain, for example, what closing Engine 4 would mean for fire safety.

“Engine 4 is the first engine to respond if there was any tragedy at Wall Street,” Boles said. “Wall Street is the economic capital of the world. They’re also a mass de-con unit, so if there was a major terrorist attack they would be the first ones to help out.”

People who live and work in the area are terrified.

“It’s such a compact neighborhood that you need someone here to respond quickly to any type of fire because it would spread like wildfire,” said Tom Rooney, who works in the area.

“Its scary, it’s absolutely scary. I don’t know what else to say,” Lower Manhattan resident Toni Sosinsky said.

“A lot of new apartments around here. All of these office buildings have become apartments, so I don’t think you should close it down. When you look at the density of the amount of people who are moving down to the Financial District, now they need it,” added Michael Springer, who also works in the area.

And Boles has a message for Mayor Bloomberg:

“Please, for the sake of the citizens of New York City and for their safety, don’t put dollars before lives,” Boles said.

The FDNY is already operating with nearly 600 fewer firefighters. City officials said it doesn’t expect to release the full list of the doomed 20 until sometime next month.

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Half Moon Bay California Decides To Ditch It’s Costly Police Department To Balance City’s Books

April 3, 2011

HALF MOON BAY, CALIFORNIA – City officials decided to outsource the local police and recreation departments Saturday.

To many, it felt like they were cutting out the city’s heart as well.

Police Sgt. Dennis Loubal broke down and wept at the microphone as he struggled to express how painful it would be for him to give up the Half Moon Bay police uniform he’d been wearing for the past 14 years. In spite of that, he said the city ought to contract with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office; it would save the city $509,000 and balance the budget.

Loubal and the rest of the sworn officers would retain their jobs under the proposal submitted by the county, but it just won’t be the same.

“I’ve been serving this community, and I know I’ll be rotated out,” he said.

Several residents wiped away tears as they sat and listened, including another police officer and the city’s mayor, Naomi Patridge, who had to leave the dais to control herself.

Half Moon Bay will begin negotiating with the city of San Carlos to take over its recreation services and work out contract details with the Sheriff’s Office, which already patrols the rest of the Coastside north and south of Half Moon Bay. The changes will save the city $700,000 each year, a sizable chunk of change in a municipality with a $9.7 million budget. The police department accounts for one-third of that budget.

Everyone knew this day was coming. It’s been coming for four years, ever
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since U.S. District Court Judge John Walker dealt the city a devastating $41 million judgment in a land-use case infamously known as Beachwood. The city then settled the suit for $18 million, which it will be paying off for the next 30 years.

Then the economic crisis wiped out the coastal city’s crucial hotel tax revenue, numbers that are just starting to rebound.

“Had the lawsuit not occurred, we could have ridden out the wave,” Councilwoman Marina Fraser said after the meeting.

The city tried to cope. It cut or outsourced half its staff, including much of its engineering and public works departments. Employees who remain are required to take 28 furlough days per year. The City Council put a sales tax increase on the ballot as a final bulwark against losing its police department, but voters defeated the measure last year.

The reason Half Moon Bay chose to incorporate in 1959 was to have its own police force. In 1961, Patridge became the new department’s first police matron.

“For me, it’s been a tough pill to swallow,” she said.

As difficult as Saturday was for everyone at the meeting, there’s more heartache on the horizon. The new contracts will replenish the city’s reserve, but that fund will be wiped out again by 2013-14 unless officials uncover a major new source of revenue or make further cuts.

By then, the city will have $4 million in deferred capital improvement expenses and vastly increased employee retirement and workers’ compensation costs, according to City Manager Laura Snideman.

As it considers its future, Half Moon Bay has no more sacred cows.

City Council members talked about moving out of City Hall — possibly into police headquarters, which may soon be vacant — and leasing the building to the highest bidder. Officials will seek further concessions from beleaguered city staff.

They even suggested contracting with the county for a new planning department, one that would serve Half Moon Bay along with the entire unincorporated Coastside.

“The community needs to understand we still have serious problems on the horizon,” said Councilman Rick Kowalczyk. “This is just step one.”

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New Alabama Budget Will Require Releasing 3000 Non-Violent Prison Inmates – State May Try Justifying Releases With “Sentencing Reform”

March 30, 2011

ALABAMA – The state finance director says 3,000 non-violent Alabama prison inmates will have to be released if the Legislature adopts the General Fund budget proposed by Gov. Robert Bentley.

Finance Director David Perry told a joint meeting of the House and Senate judiciary committees that the cuts required in the governor’s budget will force a reduction in the number of prison inmates.

Perry made the dire pronouncement Wednesday as members of the two judiciary committees were discussing a package of bills supported by Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb that are aimed at reforming Alabama’s sentencing procedures and reducing the number of prison inmates.

Perry told committee members that releasing prisoners because of sentencing reform would be “more responsible” than letting them go because of budget cuts.

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Rosemont Minnesota Runs Out Of Money – Stray Cats To Be Ignored And Left To Roam Free

March 23, 2011

ROSEMOUNT, MINNESOTA –  The City of Rosemount decided to stop capturing stray cats because of high costs.

The controversial decision means it will no longer be against the law for felines to roam free.

According to city officials, it costs the city about $1,000 a month to impound cats. Furthermore, Mayor Bill Droste says the city pays about $212 a day for unclaimed pets and a lot of people never claim their cats.

The Animal Humane Society says the new change in Rosemount is a problem. They say last year they took in about 20,000 cats — about 70 cats a day.

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Lawrence Massachusetts Runs Out Of Money To Defend Its Police Department Full Of Bad Cops

February 21, 2011

LAWRENCE, MASSACHUSETTS – Mayor William Lantigua says he will no longer pay legal bills for police officers being sued, including the bills for those officers involved in nine brutality cases pending in U.S. District Court.

The mayor says over the past three years, the city has spent $1.2 million to defend officers in civil cases. Instead, Lantigua says he will hold to the police unions’ contract, which says the city only has to pay the $5,000 retainer for a patrolman and $7,500 for a superior officer. Lantigua says officers have two options when they are being sued — to use one of the three city attorneys or have their unions pay for the defense.

“From Day One, this should never have been allowed. We cannot continue to do business as usual,” Lantigua said.

But Lantigua has hired his own outside counsel to defend the city against a complaint filed by the patrolmen’s union with the state’s Division of Labor Relations. The 10-count complaint alleges Lantigua’s decision to cut the legal payments is

“designed to punish the union and its members for exercising their collective bargaining rights.”

Patrolmen “are currently faced with the prospect of having to finance their own legal defense and personally satisfy any adverse judgments potentially rendered against them,” wrote Mark Esposito, the lawyer representing the patrolmen.

Resolution of the legal payment issue “is particularly time-sensitive, as it is essential that the officers’ rights are made clear so that they may determine how best to proceed regarding the defense of lawsuits pending against them in federal court,” Esposito said.

A “long-standing past practice” and a city ordinance “mandates that employees, including police officers, be indemnified against legal judgments pertaining to the performance of their duties to the maximum extent permitted by law,” he added.

According to Lantigua’s office, the city paid $471,374 to Dwyer and Duddy, the legal firm used by the patrolmen’s union, and $37,318, to McDonald & Associates, which represents the superior officer’s union, in the fiscal year that ended last June. In the previous year, the city paid Dwyer and Duddy $287,649 and McDonald and Associates $38,353.

Lantigua has hired Philip Boyle, an attorney from the private Boston firm Morgan, Brown & Joy, to fight the union’s complaint with the state. Last year, the city paid $53,186 to Morgan, Brown & Joy.

In many of the civil cases, the city, Police Department, police Chief John Romero and individual officers are named. The city recently settled one police brutality case, agreeing to pay $400,000 to the plaintiff, but admitted no wrongdoing.

Six civil trials involving police officers are scheduled to go forward in the next six months, including one brutality case, against officer Ivan Resto, which is supposed to start this week in federal court. These cases have the potential to result in expensive judgements or settlements that could ultimately be paid for by taxpayers.

City Councilor Daniel Rivera, chairman of the budget committee, said he was “inclined to support the administration on this, if it’s going to save the city money.” Rivera also said as the city struggled with budget cuts and layoffs last year, the police unions “made no concessions to help with the larger budgetary issue. And union leadership should know that.”

“There was an outrage over laying off police officers. Meanwhile, we are paying Cadillac prices for attorneys,” Rivera said.

Rivera acknowledged there are staffing issues in the city’s attorney’s office. A paralegal’s position was cut from the office and Richard D’Agostino, a full-time assistant city attorney, is on medical leave.

On Dec. 16, 2010, City Attorney Charles Boddy sent a certified letter to the patrolmen’s union law firm Dwyer and Duddy, stating “effective immediately the city of Lawrence was discontinuing use of the firm in the defense of Lawrence patrolmen against claims brought by third parties arising out of their employment.”

Payments to the firm have “clearly exceeded” contract obligations and “are an unwarranted burden on the municipal budget,” Boddy wrote.

Detective Alan Andrews, patrolmen’s union president, and Lt. Scott McNamara, who leads the superior officer’s union, were unavailable for comment for this story.

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Shasta County California Sheriff Lays Off 25, Plans To Close Part Of County Jail Due To Lack Of Funds

May 23, 2009

SHASTA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA – Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko issued 25 layoff notices this week and released a timeline for closing a floor of the county jail as part of department budget cuts.

Forty-seven positions within the Sheriff’s Office have been cut, resulting in the layoffs of 25 employees. Twenty-six positions are already vacant. Positions being cut include 18 deputies, three sergeants, one lieutenant, 12 public safety service officers and six correctional officers. The layoffs are effective July 1.

Bosenko said he made the cuts because he’s facing a budget deficit of more than $3 million.

Plans call for one floor of the jail to be closed, resulting in the release of about 150 inmates. Bosenko said the releases will begin in mid-June, with several inmates released each day until the floor is emptied July 1.

“It’s a threat to public safety with these releases,” Bosenko said. “And we’re looking at 60,000 releases from California state prisons as well.”

Bosenko said he is extremely concerned about public safety with the jail releases, layoffs and closing of the work-release program, resulting in 800 to 1,000 inmates not serving their sentences. The Burney station will be closed to the public and the Intermountain Area patrols will be reduced to 16 hours a day.

Bosenko said he understands that sacrifices have to be made and that county departments statewide are experiencing the same budget pains. But with crime on the rise, he said this is the worst time to make these cuts.

“I think it’s important to keep that floor of the jail open and the work-release program open and have patrols on the streets,” he said. “But with these cuts, I can’t do this. I need help from the public to emphasize the importance of public safety.”

Shasta County Supervisor Glenn Hawes said the Board of Supervisors will begin looking at next year’s budget in June and will determine which cuts are vital to the Sheriff’s Office and which are not.

“I think (the sheriff is) getting prepared for what might happen,” he said. “It’s a mess.”

Hawes said the county is at risk of losing all its tax revenue to the state because all but one of the propositions from Tuesday’s special election failed. If that happens, schools will likely get hit hard and even more countywide cuts will be necessary, he said.

“Nobody knows exactly how all this is going to play out,” he said. “We’re just going through the early steps.”

The Board of Supervisors will begin the process of compiling the 2009-2010 budget at a workshop June 8. All county departments will be present and each will be scrutinized to see what cuts are necessary, Hawes said.

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