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Ott defends his pay package and proposed budget cuts

Monday, August 10, 2009 by Charles Boisseau

City Manager Marc Ott defended himself last week shortly after city employees criticized his six-figure pay package while he proposes furloughs and cuts in incentive pay for the rest of the city’s work force to balance the city’s budget.


Approached in hallway at City Hall just after midnight early Friday morning as City Council was adjourning a marathon session, Ott reminded the reporter that earlier this year he pledged to city employees that “I was going to do everything in my power” to avoid layoffs and cutting employees’ base wages.


He said the budget he proposed includes no layoffs or base wage cuts and he was proud he was able to keep his promise to the city’s about 11,500 employees. 


“We accomplished that – no one got laid off and we didn’t reduce base pay,” said Ott, rejecting the assertion that several employees made before City Council that the city’s budget was being balanced on the backs of employees.


Employees and members of the American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1624, which represents about 1,500 city employees, protested the proposed cutbacks during a rally and in testimony before City Council on Thursday.


Workers had distributed handouts that claimed Ott’s annual pay package totaled $353,800 and included $242,000 in annual salary and perks such as $20,400 in deferred compensation and $17,400 for a car, cell and an executive allowance.


The union’s numbers were inaccurate, according to city staff. Ott’s total pay was $291,772 in 2009 (including $242,000 in salary) and his pay had declined from $333,494 in 2008, when Ott came to Austin. His 2008 pay included $40,500 in housing allowance related to relocating from Fort Worth, where he served as assistant city manager.


During the Council meeting, Ott remained silent but occasionally looked embarrassed by the accusations leveled by employees who testified before City Council. Some union members and employees looked directly at Ott as they criticized his pay package and they received cheers from supporters in the audience.


Ott’s proposed General Fund budget includes a menu of $45 million in cutbacks to offset the city’s forecasted deficit. The proposed budget includes eliminating the Service Incentive Pay (SIP) that employees with five or more years of city service receive (potential savings of $1.7 million) and a furlough of city employees for one to three days in the coming year ($700,000 in savings). Under the tiered-furlough plan, city employees who make the most money will be furloughed the longest, two to three days, while the lowest-paid workers would be furloughed one day.  


Ott defended his pay package as being similar to the previous City Manager, Toby Futrell, whom Ott replaced in early 2008. He also noted that he would be subject to potential furloughs of up to three days without pay, just as other city employees.


Ott gave a reporter a glimpse of his research comparing Austin’s proposed cutbacks with other large municipalities – all of which are struggling to balance budgets as a national recession has sapped governmental revenues.

The cities of San Antonio, Phoenix, Denver, Chicago and Charlotte are all proposing steeper cuts in incentive pay and more furloughs, Ott indicated, while he said several other cities are proposing outright layoffs, including Fort Worth, El Paso and Dallas. Almost on cue, Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm announced Friday she plans to lay off 840 city employees and raise a series of fees to close a budget deficit of nearly $190 million. The proposal needs to be OK’d by Dallas City Council.

For its part, Austin City Council plans to hear more public comments on the budget on Aug. 20 and Aug. 27 before adopting the final budget during meetings Sept. 14 to Sept. 16.

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