The city hiring restrictions put in place by Mayor Dewey Bartlett may
continue indefinitely, officials said this week.
Bartlett implemented a "soft" freeze on general fund positions in April, saying the city would re-evaluate it based on sales-tax revenue in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
He said this week that the city has largely filled positions only when a vacancy would create an emergency, per the conditions of the soft freeze, and would continue that practice for the foreseeable future.
"We still have a very tight budget, and we need to be very deliberate and prudent in hiring additional people," he said.
The freeze came following a month in which sales-tax revenue was 7.4 percent below projections.
The city closed out fiscal year 2013 with $229.1 million in sales tax revenue, 1.4 percent below projections, and so far this fiscal year has received two monthly checks from the Oklahoma Tax Commission, both slightly below budget estimates.
City Manager Jim Twombly said the city plans to re-evaluate the hiring freeze next month based on three months of sales-tax collections, but he stressed that officials do not want to put a limit on the freeze.
"We're stating that it is indefinite at this point," he said. "The thought was that it would be best to start off the year with a hiring freeze in place and kind of get our feet on the ground and see what was going on with revenue and expenses."
A City Council amendment to this year's budget added uncertainty to the length of the freeze because it required the city to save $525,000 by increasing the minimum number of vacant general fund positions at any time from 100 to 150, Twombly said.
Gauging savings from the hiring freeze is difficult or impossible because there is no way to determine how many positions the city would have otherwise filled, so officials may have to use their best judgment to determine when enough money has been saved, he said.
The $525,000 was budgeted for spending such as new police hires.
During the freeze, new hires are permitted only under emergency situations or instances where a new employee would help generate revenue, Twombly said.
That policy applies to positions that receive more than 15 percent of their funding from the city's general fund, thereby omitting departments such as the Water and Sewer Department, which receives funding from customers.
New hires must be approved by the city's Human Resources Department, the Finance Department and the Mayor's Office.
The city has filled 31 nonsworn general-fund positions since the freeze, according to the city's Human Resources Department. During the same span, 118 people were hired for positions outside the general fund.
In the five months before the hiring freeze, the city filled 63 nonsworn general-fund positions and 80 outside the general fund.
Zack Stoycoff 918-581-8486
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