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Citizens to Council: Cut away
Group favors reducing compensation, laying off workers to plug deficit
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Manteca municipal employee ranks could end up being thinned by as many as 22 workers.

That number could go even higher if employee bargaining groups don’t renegotiate contracts running through 2012 to lower compensation costs such as salary, health benefits, and retirement contributions and possibly forgo a pay raise for a second straight year.

A 15-member council appointed citizens budget committee Thursday voted unanimously to recommend that elected leaders continue cutting personnel costs as the way to cover between $2 million and $4 million in next year’s projected fiscal year deficit. The balance of the $11.3 million shortfall is being bridged by a combination of staffing reductions, non-paid furloughs, cost recovery, and reducing service levels for parks.

The committee also is recommending the City Council forgo any talk of putting a utility tax before voters until spending reductions are instituted to cover the entire $11.3 million deficit for next fiscal year. They noted it would not do any good any way – the earliest it could legally go on the ballot would be June 2010. They also felt revenue trends in the coming months need to be monitored against possible contract modifications to see just exactly where the city then stands before visiting the issue of a utility tax.

The group also believes the council should allow them to continue working to address long-term structural issues  in how the government is run while making it clear that staff was hired to do the line-by-line process needed to “get the job done” to make whatever general directive the council adopts work.

Former Mayor Carlon Perry told the committee he thought “the City Council has done a good job so far” in finding cuts and that he believed it was best that the panel recommend elected leaders continue going down the same path.

The city, as things now stands, has between $2 million and $4 million to slash out of its budget for the next fiscally year to stay afloat.

The deficit reduction measures already being put in place
The city is starting its budget planning with an estimated $40.7 million in expenses versus $29.4 million in revenues. That will create an $11.3 million gap. It is reduced to a $9.3 million deficit once $2 million in general fund reserves are applied.

So far strategies either in place or being put in place by city leaders to bridge the deficit include:

•$350,000 from landscape maintenance districts that represents what the city could retrieve if city workers instead of private firms maintained landscaping along sound walls.

•$2,316,000 by shooting for 100 percent cost recovery for development related fees including $934,000 for planning, $661,000 for building, $289,000 for public works, $282,000 for parks, and $250,000 for fire.

•$800,000 in savings for non-paid citywide furloughs.

•$625,000 in early retirement.

•$219,000 in reorganizing departments.

•$500,000 by bringing work back in-house that had been contracted out.

•$1,820,000 in savings from frozen positions including $1.4 million in the police department.

Staff had noted that would leave at least a $2.7 million gap that could be covered possibly by foregoing another round of pay raises ($800,000) in 2010 and laying off between 18 and 22 municipal workers.

Most of the hits would be taken in the parks and fire departments. Police already have cutback $1.4 million by leaving positions open. City Manager Steve Pinkerton noted that language in the voter approved Measure M half cent public safety tax requires general fund support of police services not to drop below 2005-06 funding levels.

What additional cuts would mean
Since 85 percent of the general fund budget are costs related to employee compensation, Finance Director Suzanne Mallory noted getting the rest of the deficit bridged may mean personnel cuts that would:

•Adjust tree maintenance schedules from the current five years to as far between tree work as eight years.

•Closing “low-value” park facilities such as various mini parks that have little or no use by the public.

•Reducing the level of park maintenance.

•Eliminating the tree and shrub replacement program.

•Closing the senior center every other Friday or possibly every Friday.

•Reduce reserve firefighting budget.

•Reducing daily fire department staffing from 13 to 10.

•Eliminate the fire department’s CPR program.

•Reduce maintenance along the Tidewater Bikeway.

“I’m comfortable that we’re going to come close,”  Pinkerton said of making just those additional cuts would cover the deficit for the 2009-10 year.

The only way to avoid layoffs – or at least some - would be for employee groups to reopen contracts. Cutting salaries isn’t the only potential issue. The city’s contribution to Public Employees Retirement System per worker has skyrocketed. Back in the early part of the decade, the city contributed nothing due to the high flying stock market, now it is hovering around 20 percent for many employees  and as high as 33 percent for public safety workers such as police and fire.

Committee member Kevin Wentworth agreed that asking employees to re-open contracts may be the best answer but he wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of that happening.

“It makes me sick not to honor pay (with employee groups) we made contracts with,” Wentworth said.