In his first draft of next year's budget, City Manager Kevin Duggan assumes $1 million in pension and benefit savings, as well as an additional $900,000 from increasing land lease revenue and fees charged for city services. And although most council members were generally supportive of the budget proposals, some said adding nearly $1 million in fees after significant increases last year may be going far.
But without additional income from fees and leases, the city will have to adopt portions of the suggested staff cuts included in the Tier Three plan that would save $2.1 million. The worst case scenario presented to the council includes lay offs of 16 employees and elimination of up to nine vacant full-time positions.
Tier One cuts would save only $637,000 by laying off a stagehand at the Performing Arts Center, a public education specialist at the fire department and a police community services officer. It would also eliminate a vacant weed-abatement worker position.
To save $1 million, the additional cuts in Tier Two would eliminate two community service officers, a vacant police records specialist position, a deputy fire marshal and four other positions, ranging in savings from $97,000 for a parks maintenance officer to $39,000 for an accounting technician.
In addition to the Tier One and Two cuts, Tier Three would eliminate five police community service officers and lower the union-contract minimum staffing levels in the fire department for a savings of $600,000.
There are other ways to reduce the city's costs, although those mentioned would either fall short of making a real dent in the deficit, or be difficult to implement. For example, Councilman Mike Kasperzak suggested that the city should look for ways to combine delivery of services with other cities, noting that fire departments have been merged and library services can be contracted out to the county.
The city is talking to Palo Alto about reducing the cost of the animal control contract, but could farm out the services to another provider in southern Santa Clara County and probably save more. Potential savings for this change could be significant, but probably would not be as user-friendly to residents and probably would not make a large impact on the deficit.
Outsourcing the city's fire department should be considered, but such a move would present a huge political challenge and almost certainly would be strongly opposed by most members of the department.
In prior budget years, the city already has done more than many of its peers in getting employees to share more benefit costs, but in this down economy, city revenues are not as robust as in prior years, and certainly not enough to cover the increased employee expenses.
So it will be up to the council to decide whether to mount a major initiative to roll back employee benefits or continue to lay off staff members, with a resulting cut in the level of services delivered to Mountain View residents. It will not be an easy decision.