City could pull off a balanced budget
Without union concessions, police would lose four office staff
While the "Great Recession" has forced other cities to make painful budget cuts and run large deficits, it appears that Mountain View will be in the unique position of having a balanced city budget next year with few, if any, layoffs.
After numerous City Council meetings on the budget, City Manager Kevin Duggan released what may be the last draft of the 2010-2011 city budget on Monday. It eliminates a $4.6 million general fund deficit, including a $1.6 million deficit carried over from last year.
The council is set to discuss it at meetings on June 15 and June 22.
Without a potential deal to reduce firefighter pay raises, the proposed cuts may result in some layoffs in the police department. The draft budget would increase fees for recreation and other services and reduce the capacity of every city department. But the effects of the cuts will be less "draconian" and less apparent to the public compared to cuts being made in other cities, Duggan said.
"The really good news is we're not talking bout reducing library hours, we're not talking about turning off street lights," Duggan said, calling it a "solidly balanced" budget with no "gimmicks." He attributed the city's budget success to having a balanced budget when the recession began.
The latest draft budget does include some bad news — a recent report from the county tax assessor's office and higher than expected health care costs have increased the projected general fund deficit from $4.3 million to $4.6 million. Meanwhile, unfinished negotiations with the Firefighters Association have led to employee compensation costs being budgeted $500,000 higher than many hoped.
As a result, $800,000 in cuts had to be made to the budget in recent weeks, forcing Duggan to dip into "tier two" of his list of possible budget cuts to eliminate another five positions on top of the 8.5 previously proposed. Those five include a supervising librarian, a community services officer, a tree-trimmer, a parks maintenance worker and a police records specialist. The city will also seek to save $50,000 on its annual PG&E bill and subtract $200,000 from its equipment replacement budget, likely reducing the city's vehicle fleet and the number of "take home" vehicles some employee use.
All of the positions slated for elimination are vacant, except for the police department records specialist, three part-time police assistants and two other positions filled by employees who recently announced retirement plans.
"No one will be laid off effective July 1," Duggan said, because reserve funds would keep the four police department employees on the payroll an additional six months.
Most city employee groups have agreed to go without pay raises next year or have them substantially cut. The city manager, city attorney, city clerk and all department heads have declined merit pay and cost of living adjustments. The Eagles, a mid-level managers union, police and fire managers have agreed to no pay raises next year.
Service Employees International Union Local 715 and a group of employees labeled "confidential/information" and "hourly" technology" will receive cost-of-living adjustments of just over 1 percent of their salaries, and will receive no merit pay. SEIU represented workers will take two unpaid days off in the deal.
The last holdout is the Firefighters Association. President John Miguel has said his union is willing to cut pay raises in order to save the city $1 million over the next two fiscal years, but the lengthiness of negotiations indicate that there are some disagreements, possibly over how much the cuts would really be worth. Last year, firefighters received a cost of living adjustment that raised salaries by 4.5 percent.
An agreement with firefighters may allow the City Council to achieve its goal of subtracting $1 million from the $2.7 million in various union-contract pay raises paid last year. Without it, Duggan plans to fill the $4.6 million gap with the $500,000 in employee compensation cost savings, $1.3 million in "operational efficiencies," (up from $1 million previously proposed) $1.8 million in "expenditure reductions" (up from $1.3 million previously proposed) and $1 million in new city service fee hikes.
Recreation fee hikes in the latest budget have been reduced from $600,000 to $550,000, mostly because swimmers get a break after much outcry about proposed pool fee increases. The Mountain View Masters, a group of adult swimmers who use the Eagle Park pool in the early morning, will have no fee increase after facing a doubling of its $17 monthly membership fee. Meanwhile, the Los Altos Mountain View Aquatics Club, which has substantial youth membership, faces a fee increase from $0 to $44 instead of the $76 previously proposed. Fees for lap swim and aquatic fitness classes will still be increased, but to "the lower end of comparable rates," said a city staff report.
A slew of police department fees worth $221,000 annually were added to the budget. Getting a car out of impound would cost $150 per vehicle instead of the $75 currently charged. Non-residents who want a citation signed off in Mountain View will be charged $25 instead of the $12 charged now. But the largest source, police chief Scott Vermeer has said, are increased revenue are for repeated responses to false alarms at businesses. Those fines get progressively larger until the fifth response costs $500 instead of the $330 currently charged.
E-mail Daniel DeBolt at firstname.lastname@example.org