SAN CLEMENTE : $4 Million in Cuts Listed by City Panel

A citizens committee appointed to help the city find ways to balance next year's budget presented the City Council with recommendations for $4 million in budget cuts at a special meeting this week before an overflow crowd of more than 100 people.

Among the major suggestions for savings were a one-year pay freeze for all city employees, a reduction in employee health insurance costs, and eliminating an assistant city manager position. The recommendations were made in a bid to help offset a projected $2.5-million budget shortfall next year.

"Some of these cuts are going to have to take place because the city is faced with a significant budget shortfall," said Richard McArthy, chairman of the seven-member panel. "The council now has a shopping list of things that they can pick and choose from."

McArthy said the panel, which had met weekly since January, looked for ways to reduce the city's general fund expenses while minimizing service cuts.

He said the panel needed to make "bold" suggestions, especially regarding city employees who committee members suggested work a four-day, 36-hour week, in addition to the pay freeze.

"These are the things that private industry has done when it is under financial stress," McArthy said. "We have no problem with suggesting things like that. It's better than losing your job."

The panel's 29-page report also suggested that the city eliminate 23 positions at all levels but said layoffs could be minimized to four to five employees by not filling vacant positions and by providing incentives for early retirement.

Other suggestions were that the city look into the possibility of regionalized fire and police services and reduce legal fees by hiring an in-house attorney instead of contracting for services.

The council will hold budget workshops on March 25 and 26, when it will discuss the committee's suggestions.

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