Mountain View Voice

News - June 18, 2010

Council happy with city budget

Last-minute deal with firefighters could save four police jobs

by Daniel DeBolt

After a year of discussions the city has a balanced budget that now has the backing of the City Council after a unanimous straw vote Tuesday night.

To address a $4.6 million deficit, cuts to the $87 million general fund will result in the elimination of 15 city employee positions, only four of which are filled: three police assistants and a police department records specialist. A deal to reduce pay raises for firefighters could save those four jobs when the City Council takes a final vote on the budget on Tuesday, June 22.

Some residents spoke Tuesday out of concern that cutting the office jobs in the police department would "saddle" sworn police officers with more paperwork, thereby reducing police crime-fighting capacity.

Council members said the four police department positions could be saved by a last-minute deal with the city's Firefighters Association, which may save the city $250,000 in the 2010-11 fiscal year budget. City Manager Kevin Duggan is not counting on the deal but said he was "optimistic" that it could be reached before Tuesday.

Firefighters Association president John Miguel said discussions have been extended because of unresolved complications with his union's contract. Miguel said a contract misinterpretation by city management may have cost firefighters hundreds of thousands of dollars in pay, which firefighters are offering to forgive as part of their deal to cut costs this year.

Firefighters have offered to decrease their 4.2 percent pay raise in 2010-11 to 3 percent.

If the deal is approved, the City Council will still be $250,000 short of its goal for $1 million in "employee cost containment" to balance the budget.

The city's other employee groups have agreed to take no pay raises next year, except for a group of SIEU-represented and confidential/IT employees, who will receive a 1.2 percent increase. Those deals save $500,000 from the $2.8 million increase in city employee salaries projected for next year.

In 2011-12, firefighter contract expires and firefighters have offered to take no pay raise. They will take on some of their pension costs, for another $750,000 in savings.

Budget cuts all around

Budget highlights include a slew of fee hikes for public works, planning, police services and recreation programs totaling $967,000. Cuts include the elimination of 11 vacant positions, including a street maintenance worker, a tree trimmer, a supervising librarian and a community service officer. The city also restructured the police department to save over $500,000 by eliminating the position of police agent.

"Going green" will also save some money, as the city is proposing to reduce energy use to save $50,000 and to reduce equipment replacement reserves by $200,000, partly through a reduction in the use of city vehicles.

If a deal with firefighters is not made, council member Margaret Abe-Koga said the city should dig deeper into the equipment replacement reserve to save the four police department positions.

A lengthy process

After difficulties left the city with a $1.6 million deficit last year — its first deficit in decades — the council got a six month jump start on working on this year's budget by started talks on June 23, 2009.

A projected $4.6 million general fund deficit has been patched with $1 million in fee increases, $500,000 in cuts to $2.8 million in scheduled employee pay raises and the rest in various other budget cuts. When all is said and done, the city is expected to be $60,000 in the black, Duggan said.

"We literally have been working on this budget the entire year," said Duggan.

The efforts have led to a budget that appears to spread cuts as thinly as possible in numerous areas, making the cuts "less dramatic and less impactful," Duggan said. The budget is "more positive than many of us have anticipated."

After reducing city staff by almost 90 positions over the last 10 years, the city government is now quite "lean," Duggan said, making the additional cuts that will likely be necessary next year difficult.

Within the next month the City Council is expected to begin discussing long term strategies for how to deal with what appears to be the continual shrinking of Mountain View's city government as employee salary growth outpaces the growth of tax revenue.

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