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April 02, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, April 02, 2004

City prepares to pass new budget City prepares to pass new budget (April 02, 2004)

Potential state take-away looms over city

By Grace Rauh

Mountain View residents may be able to live with brown grass, unruly bushes and one less wave as they leave the library, but if the state dips into local revenues next year, those reductions will only mark the beginning of more stringent cuts likely to sweep nearly every city department.

Local revenues have declined by $12.9 million since 2001, and they aren't expected to rise in the near future. However, that news is taking a back seat to a different predicament.

"Really, the big, big issue out there is, what will the state do?" said City Manager Kevin Duggan.

The state withheld more than $1 million in vehicle license fee revenues from the city this year and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has already proposed taking an additional $1.2 million in next year's California budget.

To plan for the uncertain financial future, city officials have created three tiers of proposed cuts and revenue boosters for the city council to consider.

"Clearly, incrementally, we are moving toward being a smaller organization," Duggan said.

That trend was evident Tuesday when the city council got its first look at the proposed budget for 2004-2005, kicking off a series of meetings and public discussions on how to best trim the city's finances to match fiscal realities. The proposed $71.5 billion general fund budget is balanced and includes an $805,000 contingency fund, but does not account for state take-aways looming on the horizon.

The draft budget proposes reducing maintenance in city parks and on the golf course, shrinking library and internal city staff, eliminating a traffic engineering assistant position, scaling back police support positions, and limiting housing and fire inspection services. The proposal does not call for any employee layoffs.

Council members were each given a lengthy 100-plus-page document outlining the recommendations.

"I really need to know what is the impact on the ultimate delivery of service," said council member Nick Galiotto, adding that he wanted more than just a list of positions recommended for the chopping block. "That doesn't help me at all."

In the police department, the first set of proposed cuts would eliminate a vacant lieutenant position, end the law enforcement body's participation in an accreditation program and curtail some crime prevention outreach.

The effects are hard to quantify, said Police Chief Scott Vermeer. If a school or neighborhood association requested a police-led safety presentation under the proposed budget, "that might be more difficult. ... You'd have to wait longer," he said.

However, the department's operations would face greater setbacks if the state takes away more than $2 million and the council approves the toughest proposed cuts. Then the consequences would become more visible.

"We'd anticipate slower response time for sure on non-emergency things, and that could have an effect on emergency calls," Vermeer said.

For the past two years, the council has approved cuts in the face of declining revenues. Mountain View has eliminated more than 50 full-time positions covered by the city's general fund, including those recommended in this year's proposed budget. City officials are calling for more than $1 million in reductions across several departments.

City Finance Director Bob Locke and his financial team will return to the council May 4 to present the rest of the budget -- including funds for water, waste, the Downtown Revitalization Authority and the North Bayshore community -- and address questions and comments brought up at Tuesday's meeting.

E-mail Grace Rauh at [email protected]

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