The Burbank City Council continued its lengthy discussions on the proposed 2018-19 budget, and talked about whether freezing vacant city positions would be beneficial.
During the meeting on May 8, Jennifer Becker, the city's deputy financial services director, walked council members through the city's internal funds. Additionally, Cindy Giraldo, the city's financial services director, discussed Burbank's funding plan for non-utility infrastructure projects.
Giraldo said the operating deficit isn't the only issue before city officials. Although the projected deficit for the 2018-19 budget will be about $200,000, Giraldo said there is a $683-million shortfall when it comes to funding infrastructure projects.
In order for the city to address the infrastructure issue, Giraldo suggested the City Council set aside $18 million over the next 25 years to fund capital-improvement projects that have been sorely needed.
A majority of the projects include street repairs, improvements to city-owned facilities, maintaining storm drains and maintenance of and improvements to parks.
To help with funding, Councilman Bob Frutos suggested the city freeze several vacant positions in the Public Works Department.
"People are saying how they could support the [electric] in-lieu tax or a sales tax if we haven't even frozen positions," he said. "I think it's about time that we have that discussion. People want to hear us, at least, discuss it. I'd like to see every position frozen. We have to do something."
However, City Manager Ron Davis disagreed with Frutos, saying that the Public Works Department is already worn thin, and freezing positions that could help achieve the city's goal of fixing its infrastructure would not be the way to go.
"Public works has been cut and cut with the budget cuts, and the council and the public want things done to improve the infrastructure of the city — from potholes to sidewalks to weeds," Davis said. "The Public Works Department cannot keep up. There is no way we can maintain service levels if you have us freeze those positions. There is no way."
Davis also said there are other well-staffed and well-funded departments where freezing vacant positions would be more justifiable.
Councilman Jess Talamantes said freezing positions in any department would have a negative impact on city services. He used an example of how it has taken twice as long for someone to receive approval to build an addition to a house.
"If we want to start not filling some of the positions that are required, it's going to be worse," he said. "It's a difficult choice. It's easy to say, 'don't fill them,' but the people that are doing the work — the potholes are going to take longer to fill. It's just a domino effect."
Davis said city staff members have done a lot to save the city money, not only for the upcoming fiscal year, but for the foreseeable future.
Some of the ways Burbank will be saving money, which is about $8.5 million once fully implemented, will be having employees pay half of their pension costs, compensating employees at a market level, implementing a fee policy and prepaying the city's CalPERS liability.
"When you say you haven't cut anything, you've cut more this year than in the entire 20 years I've worked here," Davis said. "They're durable cuts, not gimmicks."