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Lathrop may cut 15 workers, furloughs now possible
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LATHROP – Some 15 jobs are on the chopping block in the City of Lathrop’s first round of layoff notices to overcome an estimated $2.5 million budget deficit.

At least eight of the positions proposed for elimination belong to city employees who are members of the SEIU (Service Employees international Union). About five or six of them are positions that have been budgeted but have not been filled, said City Manager Cary Keaten who announced the proposed layoffs to union representatives on Thursday.

Depending on a number of factors including a turn-around in the current slumping economy, the second phase of the city’s ongoing effort to bridge the budget gap “may be furloughs and other measures that have to be negotiated with the union,” the city manager said.

“We’re looking at an annual $2.5 million deficit that we need to reduce, so that’s what we’re looking at doing. We’re trying to figure out to cut back costs to reduce that deficit,” Keaten said.

“What we’re recommending to council is to do it in phases ,” he said, while staff continues to massage the financial predicament some more in hopes of avoiding any more layoffs the second time they have to take further action to trim the budget.

“Our revenue is down 25 percent so we have to offset that cost. It’s simply an issue of money. The money is not coming in and we don’t have the reserves to keep going,” Keaten said.

He said they arrived at that figure based on their analysis of the city’s sales tax data as well as conversations with San Joaquin County officials regarding Lathrop’s share of property taxes which has sharply diminished as a result of the mortgage meltdown and with the decline in both residential and commercial building activity in the city.
The proposed layoffs and elimination of budgeted positions represent 15 percent of that 25 percent deficit, Keaten said.

“We’re hoping we’ll be able to negotiate (the remaining) 10 percent of it in furloughs for staff,” he said.

He, along with Finance Director Terri Vigna and Human Resources Director Katie Lemons, met with representatives of the union on Thursday and informed them about the proposed layoffs and other cost-saving solutions that the city is looking into right now.

SEIU representative Rafael Pulido said he and two other union leaders were informed that the city will be eliminating 12 positions and that eight of them are union members.

Three of those union members are maintenance workers in the Public Works Department who are assigned to parks maintenance.

Rounding out the positions recommended for elimination are that of the building inspector, assistant planner, associate planner and permit technician in the Community Development Department, an office assistant in the city manager’s office, and four positions that are being held by non-union members.

The layoffs won’t be official until they are approved by the City Council which will meet Thursday next week to do just that.

Union counter-proposals: reduce city birthday celebration funds
In anticipation of the council’s discussion and vote on the layoff proposals, union representatives are making what Pulido said are “counter-proposals” to the city, “a holistic way of looking at how we can save money without having drastic cuts to services on the line.”

Two of their proposals are to “defund the assistant manager position” which is budgeted but is not yet filled, and eliminating “or greatly reducing the July 1 birthday celebration costs,” Pulido said.

He said those two actions alone would save the city each year $60,000 from the city’s birthday celebration – “that’s what our records say,” he said – and about $200,000 from the assistant manager’s position which is the combination of $150,000 in salary plus a benefit package of $45,000 a year.

“We’re all willing to work to find a solution but we, the workers, want to be part of the solution. (The workers) know what’s going on because they are on the frontlines. We’re in this together so let’s work together,” Pulido said.

Eliminating the three maintenance workers will definitely create a major impact on city services that will be immediately felt in the community, he said.

That’s because those three employees are ‘basically the entire parks department,” Pulido said.

When these employees are gone, “all that’s left is the supervisor as well as a lead position (the equivalent of a foreman),” he pointed out.

While the city has contracted out street and landscape services for the city, they do not handle parks clean-up, cleaning the public restrooms, and maintaining the community center  which are among the responsibilities of the three maintenance workers who are facing layoff, Pulido said.

“They also do building maintenance, trash pickup, and transporting equipment such as tables and chairs for any events. If there’s damage to the park or if a building needs repainting, they’re responsible for these,” he said.

There are 47 city employees represented by the union, or about half of the total city staff, he said.

“Some of the people affected have been working for the city for nine-plus years, about half of them. The loss of income will be devastating to them especially with the situation right now where jobs are not as plentiful. One of the street workers being laid off just found out he’ll be a first-time father, so it will be tough for them,” Pulido said.

According to the city proposal, those recommended for layoff will be provided two weeks of severance pay which is the equivalent of one pay period, Pulido said.

“They are also working on expanding the Cobra benefits so that they can maintain their health benefits,” he added.

Two other options are also being considered in relation to health-benefit coverage of those who would lose their jobs: have the city cover Cobra fees entirely for six months, or 12 months at 65 percent coverage.

Union lobbies with council members
Union members are trying to gain the support of the City Council members to soften the economic blow for those who are bound to lose their jobs. They are scheduled to meet with Council member Sonny Dhaliwal at City Hall today.

“We’re trying to get assurances that they have exhausted all possible cuts before they affect employees and services,” Pulido explained.

Dhaliwal declined to comment on the proposed layoffs saying, “It is premature to comment on this right now because nothing is final yet.”

However, the reality is that “we have over $2 million deficit currently,” he said.

“Everybody’s hurting, not just Lathrop. It’s happening everywhere. If we have to let some people go, that will be absolutely the last option. But right now, everything’s on the table. We’ll see what we can do, but the city has to stay solvent,” Dhaliwal said.

Any further cuts in the budget will also depend on the police contract that the city has with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office.