KCUR News
1:24 pm
Mon March 22, 2004

Council faces choice of cuts, worker furloughs

KANSAS CITY – Faced with trying to maintain services with fewer spare dollars, City manager Wayne Cauthen's budget plan cuts health care funding for poor residents by more than $8 million. Truman Medical center President John Bluford says that cut would have devastating effects on everyone, not just people who can't pay their bills.

It will be bad to catastrophic. You know, the point of contact is going to be through the emergency room, and there's a thing in our community we call diversion. That's when emergency rooms can't accommodate any more volume. It just means we'll get on diversion quicker, and more often than we have in the past.

The threat of cuts to indigent care sent some city leaders searching for a solution. One idea is to save more than a million dollars by asking city workers to take three days of unpaid leave.

Our folks cannot have a furlough day for the simple reason, some of our folks are one paycheck away from being broke.

Bob Gillis is president of Local 500, the union that represents most of Kansas City's blue-collar workers. Gillis says his members shouldn't be asked to sacrifice while other city workers, such as firefighters and police officers, would go unscathed.

We just got a 4 percent increase but our health coverage went up 11 percent. So that offsets that and if they take those furlough days, that means the little increase that we got was not even 2 percent. That's just ridiculous.

Gillis' union represents more than 1,700 city employees. Councilman Jim Rowland chairs the city's budget and audit committee. He says it's likely some type of furlough will pass. Without the unpaid leave, Rowland says some workers would lose their jobs.

We're doing all that we can to avoid significant layoffs, which could be a reality in next year's budget. So, to take two or three days without pay and still maintain a job in today's economy is probably a good thing.

Rowland says he and others are trying to abide by the 1989 health care levy in finding a way to fund indigent care. Whether or not meeting that need comes at the expense of city workers will be decided this week. The city council must pass next fiscal year's budget by Thursday.