Saving South Bend money could cost city workers jobs

South Bend, Ind. A proposal to save South Bend money could cost some city workers their jobs.

During his budget address Wednesday, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he wants to merge the city’s code enforcement and building departments, along with animal control.

“We think putting it under one roof gets you a big savings by having more of a seasonal approach, cross training people so they can do more than one job, work on both sides of the house and integrating our data,” Buttigieg said.

By combining the departments, Buttigieg says some jobs will have to go. He hasn’t said how many or how much the merger could save the city.

But, the proposal is already raising concerns among some common council members, who say they never saw the idea coming.

“While there needs to be more communication between these departments, that does not necessarily mean that they need to be merged,” said Common Council Vice President Oliver Davis.

Davis says department employees were told this week they’ll have to reapply for their jobs because they aren’t guaranteed.

He says code enforcement and the building department are both in high-demand and cutting from their workforces seems counter-intuitive.

“It's very difficult to talk about cutting the budget when we're also spending a lot of money on pet projects,” he said.

Code Enforcement plays a large role in Buttigieg’s vacant and abandoned housing initiative. He’s requested more than $2 million to continue that effort in 2014.

Councilwoman Valerie Schey says she also has some concerns about the proposal. Both she and Davis want to know more about the exact impact the merger could have on the city and how many jobs will be lost.

Those questions will likely be answered in the coming weeks as budget hearings begin.

And, Buttigieg says cuts have to come from somewhere. His proposed budget reduces spending in 2014 by 3.4 percent.

“There's no way to balance our budget anymore without being a leaner team,” he said. “It's just something we can't avoid. You'll notice the total head count of the city continues to shrink, but we're able to do that while continuing to have a high level of service because of technology.”

Davis says if the council decides they need more in-depth discussion on the merger, they could take it off the table for 2014.

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