Twin Falls City Councilman Will Kezele has joined his fellow council members in endorsing a nearly 3 percent cut in this year's budget. But he says the council needs to go a bit farther and take off another 4-5 percent.
As he sees it, the additional cuts are the least the city can do in this economic climate. As with many of the people Kezele represents, money is tight in his household due to losses in his consulting business. He says it is time for the council to comb through the budget and make even more serious efforts to sort the "needs" from the "wants."
The city already is taking positive steps, Kezele said. According to records, council members are looking at a nearly $48.7 million budget for Fiscal 2009-2010 - a reduction of $1.4 million or 2.84 percent from the previous year. Kezele says there is room for more reductions.
"Those who are at all levels of government - whether it's the federal level, the state legislature or the city council - should take the same kind of approach the citizens take," he said. "People in Congress can't cut to save their lives; we've got to learn how to cut.
"Twin Falls is historically conservative and I have been impressed with the restraint shown over the years," he said. "But it doesn't mean we can't sacrifice more to keep money in the hands of citizens. The conversation needs to be had."
Kezele has identified several areas for possible cutting:
Kezele says the city has made cuts in training and development, overtime and travel, but can do more. "It's a matter of picking here and picking there. We have to ask ourselves, is the budget item critically necessary? If it is not, and we can live without it for a year, cutting from the budget is absolutely the right thing to do."
Kezele, who has been on the city council for just over a year, says he has the utmost respect for Mayor Lance Clow and his fellow council members. Generally, he says, the city offers good services and is moving in the right direction. Critics to Kezele's call for additional cuts have said that further reductions would interfere with future planning efforts.
"I am not calling for budget cuts that would interfere with infrastructure or impede the growth of the community," he said.
City leaders are well aware of the economic conditions. The city's preliminary budget report points out that growth in Twin Falls, measured by new connections to the city's water system, has slowed to less than 1 percent. Housing starts through May are at a 12-year low.
Although the report says there are encouraging signs on the economic front with commercial projects at Wal-Mart and other developments nearing completion, Twin Falls has seen increases in the unemployment. The unemployment rate for May was at 5.75 percent in May - with Kezele figuring into those statistics.
His call for cutting city budgets, he said, "is not an agenda - it's what every family is doing. Government needs to do the same."
Chuck Malloy is a special projects writer with the Idaho Freedom Foundation.