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City employees who find new ways to slash costs would receive a cut of the savings under a plan advanced Friday by a Buffalo lawmaker.

An employee incentive program would help the cash-starved city save money, while making services more efficient, Delaware Council Member Marc A. Coppola said.

He added that rewarding people for devising innovative money-saving strategies might also help to motivate a work force that has been rattled by recent layoff announcements.

"Performance incentives have been employed for many years in the private sector," Coppola argued. "Now we're starting to see some municipalities turn to incentive programs."

For example, the state of Delaware's Department of Transportation has a "Shared Savings Program" that encourages government workers to submit ideas for operating, buying or constructing things more efficiently. If the idea results in documentable savings to the state, the money is placed in a special fund. After a year, half of the savings is split equally among all employees.

The department also has a companion program that offers cash rewards to individual employees.

A spokesman for the Delaware DOT could not be reached to discuss the new pilot programs, but Coppola said he thinks Buffalo could benefit from similar initiatives.

The city is currently facing its worst fiscal crisis in at least two decades. State auditors are expected to release a report next week documenting what some sources have described as a "severe cash shortage."

Coppola and others have said the problems underscore the need for City Hall to begin restructuring the way it does business.

"The people who run our operations on a day-to-day basis and who provide the services are best equipped to come up with innovative ideas," he said. "The whole idea might sound stupid to some people, but with the problems we're facing, no idea is a dumb idea."

Coppola will sponsor a resolution at Tuesday's Common Council meeting asking city human resources officials and finance experts to spend the next six months studying the feasibility of introducing an employee incentive program.

The head of the union that represents more than 600 white-collar workers encouraged the city to study the concept.

"This is being done in the private sector," said ASFCME Local 650 President Michael H. Hoffert. "I think giving bonuses to people who come up with ideas for saving money would be good."

Coppola said another option might involve giving non-cash bonuses, such as extra vacation days.

But Hoffert said the success of this type of program would hinge on the city actually implementing money-saving ideas.

"I've had a number of my members come up with some ways to save money, but the city has been unreceptive to them at this time," he said.

Some of the proposals involved strategies for cutting costs associated with the city's fleet of vehicles and other transportation-related expenses, Hoffert said.


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