City manager Kevin Duggan reported "good news" in Tuesday's City Council budget study session. Better-than-expected tax revenue projections have decreased the city's general fund deficit estimate from $5 million to $4.3 million for 2010-2011.
City officials now hope to make only $1.3 million worth of significant cuts to services instead of the $2 million in cuts previously proposed.
But that hope rests on ongoing negotiations with the city's four unions over the next few weeks to save $1 million by slowing down increases to pay and benefits, along with $1 million in new revenue from various fee increases for city services. Thankfully, council members don't have to bet on another $1 million in less painful cuts called "operational efficiencies," some of which are already in effect. The City Council has to approve a city budget in June.
Mountain View Firefighters Association president John Miguel said his union has already agreed to a cut in pay raises worth $1 million over the next two years in order to avoid layoffs and cuts to city services. Whether the city's three other unions will follow suit remains to be seen. But it appears that several deals are in the offing.
"I wouldn't necessarily be able to agree with any of the financial estimates the groups might offer," Duggan said Wednesday. "At this point I would be cautious to characterize any of the proposals as complete."
For Tuesday, Duggan prioritized possible budget cuts by organizing them into four tiers and if all go according to plan, only the first tier will have to be cut. That would mean cutting some vacant library staff positions, some street maintenance, and technical assistance for the planning department, as well as city building maintenance, public works analytical support and document processing services. Tier one would cut 8.5 positions, but most are vacant. Because of a recently announced retirement, Duggan said layoffs would be limited to three half-time police assistants. Council member Margaret Abe-Koga opposed those police cuts Tuesday in favor of cutting the city's equipment replacement budget.
"These are not desirable things to do," Duggan said of tier one. "We think they are manageable without major negative impacts on our customers or our employees."
Without the union concessions, the city may have to delve into tier-two cuts totaling $1 million, which includes park ranger services, library staff, the book mobile, park and tree maintenance, and more police staff cuts to community service officers and record keepers.
Cuts to popular Deer Hollow Farm appear to be unlikely as those were listed as a last resort in tier four and several City Council members oppose cutting the program.
Fee increases challenged
At Tuesday's meeting dozens of local swimmers spoke to the city council about proposed pool fee increases for the Los Altos Mountain View Aquatics Club and the Mountain View Masters swim team. The swimmers claimed that they would be forced out of the city's pools at Eagle and Rengstorff parks under the proposals and the city would be without the revenue it currently gets from the swim clubs. The parent of one swimmer claimed that the price per swim lane per hour would be six times what Sunnyvale and other nearby cities charge.
Council members agreed and said the city may have miscalculated the market rate fees for swim clubs.
"If we get too expensive, people will just swim somewhere else," said council member Tom Means, who added that finding a balance when raising fees is "tricky."
Users of Mountain View's community gardens also spoke about increases to their annual fees that would make them among the highest in the region.
While some members previously considered a parking fee for Shoreline Park, the council ended up voting 6-1 against the idea Tuesday in a straw vote. Council member Laura Macias remains the only supporter of the idea.
"There's plenty of people that go there that would pay $1 to $2" for parking at Shoreline, Macias said. But other members were concerned about effects on Shoreline Park businesses such as the Lakeside Cafe. Others thought the fee was unnecessary.
"I'm really glad we're in a better budget position than we thought we were," said council member Abe-Koga.