Dover’s City Council and its ad hoc Financial and Operations Advisory Committee to discuss formulating the city’s Fiscal Year 2015 spending plan.

Members of Dover’s City Council and its ad hoc Financial and Operations Advisory Committee held separate meetings over two consecutive days to discuss formulating the city’s Fiscal Year 2015 spending plan.

Meeting Thursday, the Financial and Operations Committee discussed several issues, primarily the means to address the city’s aging infrastructure and ensuring pensions for retired workers are fully funded.

A number of city union representatives were on hand as well, responding to worries the committee planned to recommend a number of staff cuts. That rumor, however, apparently was based on a misinterpretation of earlier comments by Chairman D. Wayne Holden.

During the committee’s organizational meeting on Dec. 12, Holden had discussed layoffs, but emphasized those only came after some municipalities, such as Detroit, Mich., had declared bankruptcy.

He hopes to avoid that situation in Dover, Holden said.

The city must deal with a number of issues in both meeting its obligations to city residents, its workers and city retirees, all while working to close a looming budget gap projected to be in excess of $7 million over the next five years, City Manager Scott Koenig told the group.

“We’ve been struggling over the past few years to address service levels, address efficiency and try to get the best bang out of our dollar,” Koenig said.

Much of the city’s revenue is driven by development and construction, with money coming in from transfer taxes, impact fees and property taxes, Koenig said. That income, particularly from transfer taxes, has fluctuated significantly lately, he said.

In addition, costs and labor fees continue to increase, Koenig said.

“We’re getting squeezed from both ends,” he noted.

Another concern has been the reduction in city staff in an effort to bring down costs, but that is starting to cause concerns as well, Koenig said.

City residents are beginning to complain about a drop in service while at the same time there is pressure to expand some services, he said.

Committee member Dr. Cynthia Newton has been gathering information on streamlining the city’s organizational structure, including the division of tasks between the mayor and city manager. Newton said she wants to investigate why those responsibilities in Dover differ from similar cities in the Northeast.

“Throughout the country, we’ve been seeing an epidemic of municipalities running into trouble,” Holden said, adding definitive action will be needed, although it still is too early to say what that action will be.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” Holden said. “There are things that will need to be done.”

Koenig addressed some of the concerns about staffing reductions at the Friday City Council retreat, saying department heads have requested an additional five positions be added to the city’s personnel ranks, for a total cost of $221,000, not including benefits.

Two of those jobs would be civilian positions in the police department, which would free up two sworn officers, Koenig said.

Other major drivers for the FY 2015 budget will be contractual pay increases for some city union personnel, including the police, Koenig said, as well as utility costs.

The ad hoc Financial and Operational Advisory Committee also set up regular meeting times, which are open to the public. The next session will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, in the Dover City Hall conference room.