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City Officials Scrutinizing the Budget for Places to Cut

TIMES STAFF WRITER

City officials in charge of everything from running libraries to staffing parks were crashing the budget books Thursday and figuring out how to cope with Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley’s emergency hiring freeze.

Most managers said it would take some time to gauge the full impact of the new belt-tightening, but cutbacks in service were already being predicted in some areas.

“There’s a good possibility we may have to start reducing some (hours of) service,” said Marilyn Johnson, the library system’s director of branches. “Where and how much I can’t tell you yet.”

But Johnson said a four-month hiring freeze earlier this year had boosted vacancies to about 10% of the library work force, the “highest we’ve had in many years.”

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Recreation officials in the San Fernando Valley, where the city operates 60 parks, said they may have to cut recreation center hours and consolidate programs.

“There’s a possibility we would close (park offices) some mornings,” said John Maghakian, a recreation supervisor who already has twice the normal number of unfilled positions. “We know the freeze is going to affect us. . . . I’m losing some people that I can’t (replace).”

The new seven-month, citywide hiring freeze includes all police, fire and sanitation departments. An earlier freeze imposed from April to August had spared those departments.

Bradley ordered the new freeze Wednesday because of a worsening city financial crunch and a projected $120-million budget shortfall over the next 18 months.

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The shortfall in the $3.6- billion city budget is chiefly the result of falling business and other tax collections because of the recession, City Administrative Officer Keith Comrie said.

Department heads Thursday were working up reports, to be presented to the City Council and the mayor, outlining how they will deal with the freeze, as well as Bradley’s orders to develop contingency plans to cut expenses by 10%.

Comrie estimates that more than 650 of the city’s 34,000 jobs will go unfilled during the hiring freeze. If the recession deepens, the freeze may have to be extended through 1991-92 with the staff loss climbing to more than 2,000, Comrie said.

“The first effort will be reductions where they will have the least impact on front-line services,” Comrie said.

For example, Comrie said the Fire Department is being asked to consider reducing the number of firefighters manning some large stations. “Could they do with less and keep the same number of fire stations open?” he said.

But the freeze, particularly if extended, will affect “the miles of streets (repaired), the hours libraries are open, the response times of police officers and the numbers of trees trimmed,” he said.

At a city tree trimming yard in the West San Fernando Valley, the city’s earlier freeze has already taken a toll.

“It’s definitely hurt us,” said Allen Cooke, a supervisor. At the beginning of the year, Cooke said, he had three tree-trimming crews to work on emergencies, such as fallen limbs, potential hazards and trees obscuring stop signs. Now he has only one crew.

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“It hurts us. These six guys have to do what 20 did before.”


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