Council members had a visceral reaction to an array of non-specific budget cuts proposed by the city manager Tuesday night, but most appeared to accept an aggressive strategy for dealing with the city's budget deficit, projected at $6 million for this year.
"I don't know who is affected," said council member Laura Macias. "I need to know a lot more, I need to know what the tradeoffs are."
Council members and union representatives made it clear Tuesday night that they want to fully understand the options available to them as the city figures out how to close a $6 million budget gap this year and a gap of at least $4 million every year for the next four years, brought on partly by the economic downturn and partly by increasingly expensive staff costs, said Kevin Duggan, city manager.
Duggan proposes $4 million in cuts and new revenue along with the use of $2 million in reserves to patch an $89 million general fund budget that will be presented as a draft on May 5 and adopted in June. The use of reserves as "transition funding" is meant to buy time for the public and city employees to be involved in budget discussions for next year's budget. Those discussions could take place June through December.
Clearly, Duggan said, the goal is to fix the deficit "without layoffs to the greatest extent possible."
But he added, "While we will try to do that we just can't guarantee that. We will do our best to avoid it."
Macias, along with member Ronit Bryant and Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga, expressed frustration with the process while members Mike Kasperzak, Jac Siegel and John Inks appeared more supportive of the city manager's strategy. Member Tom Means was absent.
"The annual budget is usually a very passive experience for many council members," Bryant said, describing the deficit as a "crisis." "We need to be more involved and active in the process."
Duggan presented a three-tiered list of dozens of possible budgets cuts and new revenue sources which yet to have dollar amounts attached. Nearly every city department faces cuts.
The first tier of Duggan's preliminary list of cuts includes staff and service cuts to the library as well as City Planning, Parks and Recreation, Public Works and Mountain View Police departments. (In the latter, only non-officer positions are being considered.)
If those cuts aren't enough for the 2009-10 budget, second tier staff cuts would include three police officer positions, along with a deputy fire marshal. The library may be closed one day a week or have hours of operation reduced. The city's high-tech bookmobile -- donated by Google -- would get parked.
And if those cuts aren't enough in future years, Duggan proposes complete elimination of some services in tier three, as well as consolidating city departments and placing some kind of tax measure on the ballot, something Mountain View has not done in many years.
Despite Duggan's presentation, many council members wanted to know more, and several admitted to not adequately understanding the city budget despite years on the council.
The SIEU brought several dozen members to the meeting. Code enforcement officer and union leader Chris Costanza spoke for the group, saying the union probably had members in every department.
"We are willing and want to understand the extent of any and all problems and work to find solutions," Costanza said.
The city's budget deficit could grow to $15 million by 2012 without intervention, Duggan says. He said the city will be lucky to even have revenues in 2012 to support existing services.
Abe-Koga has proposed using the city's above-average reserves to stay afloat instead of cutting staff, but seemed supportive of the "hybrid approach of using reserves."
No fat to trim
Because the city budget has already been cut several times since the 1990s, there are "very limited options to address this current challenge without significant impacts on service to the public and city staff," Duggan wrote in a staff report.
During the meeting, Duggan said that "staff costs are a major source of the [budget increase."
Mike Kasperzak, who ran for election without the support of the city's unions last year, said that city government employees should share the pain felt by private employees everywhere through salary cuts.
"There are a lot of people looking at government saying, 'Gee, I sure picked the wrong career path,'" Kasperzak said.
For other members the solution appeared more elusive.
"I would like to put all of the city in one room for a weekend and talk about it," Bryant said. "Maybe we need a really long workshop."
Duggan cautioned against using too much city reserves and taking a "wait and see approach," to the deficit. He cited the growing deficits of several neighboring cities, and the city's potential $15 million deficit in 2012, as examples.
"Our job as staff, my job as city manager and your job as the City Council is to make sure that potential reality doesn't happen," he said.