Good news first: the number of city employees facing layoff is down to 31.
Last week, when City Manager Tom Bonfield presented his 2009-'10 recommended budget, the total was 35. Since then, though, three people have been placed in other city jobs and one is taking retirement, Bonfield said this afternoon.
The city is still shedding 113 positions for the coming fiscal year, either by eliminating them completely or leaving them unfunded.
The City Council started its work sessions on the budget this morning, racing through its day's agenda by 12:45 p.m. and then taking a 30-minute break while Budget Director Bertha Johnson and other staffers rounded up some more department heads who were ready to give account of themselves early.
Ten departments were heard from in the first session. Six more were ready by afternoon, though they had been scheduled for later this week.
Council members flagged less than half a dozen items for review next week during its final sessions before approving a budget June 15.
In Monday's early session, council members got a recap on the budget's effect on employees, most of whom will go without raises and see a trim in benefits. Police and firefighters whose job performance rates a pay increase will get 5 percent and 3 percent raises, as called for in their compensation plan.
Also, 32 employees working below the revised "living wage" rate of $11.40 per hour (federal figure for a family of four) will see an increase Jan. 1. Durham's current living wage was raised to $10.95 per hour Jan. 1 of this year; the living wage is indexed to be 7.5 percent above the federal poverty level. Most of those jobs are clerical or mainenance, personnel director Alethea Bell said.
Bonfield said he lifted the city's hiring freeze — instituted last fall to cut costs in the face of declining revenue — last week so that employees facing layoff could be hired into jobs currently vacant for which they were qualified. The city is also trying to find jobs with Durham County for its "reduction in force" victims.