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Lathrop may balance budget by getting rid of four workers

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POSTED June 17, 2011 1:23 a.m.

LATHROP – The good news is that Lathrop City Manager Cary Keaten has come up with a way to balance the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 without tapping into general fund reserves.

The bad news? If his proposal, as written, is adopted by the city council when they meet again on June 20, three full-time staff members and a part-time employee will be laid off in order to save the $565,000 needed to cover the remaining budget shortfall.

According to Keaten’s staff report – which he distributed the day after marathon budget negotiation sessions with the council – the Economic Development Administrator position, which was approved Monday in the City Manager’s annual budget, could be cut to save $148,000.

He also recommends:

• Cutting the code enforcement officer position at a savings of $91,000.

• Reorganizing the Information Technology Department and cutting the IT analyst position to save $96,000.

• Laying off the part-time administrative assistant assigned to the City Attorney to save $55,000.

• Eliminating the City Manager’s contingency budget, saving $50,000.

• Cutting the funding for a principal planner but funding a senior planning position instead, saving $31,000.

• Performing in-house recruitment for the Parks and Recreation Administrator and not filling the vacancy created to save $48,000.

• Shifting weed abatement and vehicle abatement responsibilities back to Lathrop-Manteca Fire District.

The council began two days of budget talks on Monday, but only managed to find $50,000 to cut after voting to not allow the governing body to tap into reserves in order to balance the budget. Tuesday’s meeting turned tumultuous after Councilwoman Martha Salcedo left, and a divided council – with Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos and Vice Mayor Christopher Mateo on one side and Councilmen Sonny Dhaliwal and Omar Ornelas on the other – repeatedly watched motions die at 2-2 with nobody present to act as the swing vote.

Mateo was adamant about having staff make the suggestions regarding where to cut – repeatedly referring to them as the “professionals” and noting that going through the budget line-item by line-item searching for things as a body would be nothing more than a waste of time.

And it was Santos that put a human face on what was a $614,000 shortfall by asking Keaten point-blank how many people that represented in terms of layoffs if it were to reach that point. Keaten said that it was likely around four people – just over the number included in the staff report that was released Wednesday.

But not everybody who was in attendance at the budget meetings earlier in the week thinks that sitting on the reserves is the way to go.

Resident John Wall listened to the council go back and forth for hours on Monday, and thinks that by not dipping into reserves and just flat-out cutting positions the city is doing a disservice to both the people who are going to wind up without a job and the residents who have come to expect a certain level of service.

“It’s an emergency fund that’s there for situations and times like this. I think that by not using it the city is being ridiculous and inconsiderate,” Wall said. “And the fact that one of those positions is a sales tax generating position that can bring big money into the city makes it even worse. The fact that they’re going to take a job like that and give it to somebody who already has two other jobs is inconsiderate to both the resident and the businesses that might be considering coming to Lathrop.

“If they do go with that proposal on Monday – if they do lay those people off – I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that they’re not city officials when the next election comes around. That’s how serious I am about this.”

The Lathrop City Council will meet and discuss the 2011/12 budget and the possibility of laying off three full-time and one part-time worker on Monday, June 20. at Lathrop City Hall – located at 390 Towne Centre Drive. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

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