178 Workers Expected to Lose City Jobs : Economy: City manager says layoffs, to trim $18 million from the budget, would be the largest number since the Depression. Council must still approve cuts.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In yet another round of depressing economic news, City Manager Jack McGrory announced $18 million in budget cuts Friday that might leave as many as 178 city employees in unemployment lines. He called it the largest number of city layoffs "since the Depression."

On the same day that state unemployment figures rose yet again, McGrory said he was forced to slash 231 positions from the general fund for the 1993 fiscal year--positions affecting 178 people, with the remainder currently unfilled.

Pending approval by the San Diego City Council on Oct. 1, he also intends to cut 34 budgeted but unfilled positions from the Water Utilities Department and 16 budgeted but unfilled positions from the Building Inspection Department.

The 1993 fiscal year began July 1. The layoffs, if approved, would begin after next week's council meeting.

McGrory called it possible but "highly unlikely" that all 178 staff members whose jobs will be cut could be transferred to other departments. He said that, of the jobs being eliminated, more are in the white-collar category.

He conceded only half-jokingly that a librarian wishing a transfer, for example, might find herself toiling as a sewer worker.

"These people will probably get some kind of an opportunity to move into another job," McGrory said at an afternoon press conference. "The question is, whether or not they will see that as an appropriate fit for them individually."

Among other things, McGrory is recommending that:

* The Fire Department budget be reduced by $1.75 million.

He's advocating the elimination of 31 positions, including 26 firefighters currently "available for emergency responses."

"I know they won't like it," he said of the firefighters. "There may be some impact on response times. I hope it won't be significant."

* Forty-three positions be eliminated in the Police Department, although none will involve sworn officers. Savings: $1.6 million.

He said that, over the past year, the city has cut about 100 "non-sworn" police positions.

* The arts be cut 15% "across the board," affecting 121 organizations and programs as diverse as the Old Globe Theatre and city-sponsored cultural education programs. Total impact: $750,000.

* Twenty-two library positions be terminated for a savings of $727,024.

* Ten positions be eliminated in the city attorney's office, saving $743,452.

* Nineteen positions be eliminated from the City Planning Department for a savings of $700,000. The city architect would be terminated, as well as the historical preservation staff.

* Some economic development programs be "frozen" at their current levels, meaning the Greater San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau "will take a $280,000 cut, and the (San Diego) Convention Center a $300,000 cut."

The latest cuts, necessitated by reduced revenues from the state, in addition to the city's own economic shortfall, will--if the council approves--be added to $20 million in cuts made last year, followed by $16 million more added to that figure in August.

None of those cuts, McGrory said, include budget reductions of $29 million to the Clean Water Program, $950,000 to the Building Inspection Department and $2.9 million to the city's redevelopment agency that he announced Friday and plans to propose to the council.

Sparing nothing in detailing the starkness of the economic picture, McGrory said it figures to get worse before it ever gets better.

"We're going to have to ratchet back on a permanent basis," he said. "While we would all like to keep the same quality of life and level of services, we are a business, and you've got to go with the revenue you've got, balance your budget and make your expenditure cuts.

"When revenue doesn't come in, you've simply got to cut."

Reaction to the news was predictable, with the firefighters' union calling the cuts "unacceptable" and arts leaders deploring yet another assault on the city's cultural life.

Arts executives said some groups would likely be forced to cut programs, staff or even close as a result. This comes at a time when funding from corporations and private donors is down, and ticket sales have slowed somewhat.

"Arts groups have been operating on a shoestring for years," said Fred Colby, executive director of the San Diego Foundation for the Performing Arts, which will lose as much as $10,000 in the cutbacks. "What are you going to do? There's nobody left to trim. When you cut performances, you do not necessarily reduce your expenses. It does not reduce your operational expenses to go from presenting six to five groups."

At the Old Globe Theatre, managing director Tom Hall said that the Globe's cut will mean a $100,000 reduction of the company's $8.4-million operating budget.

"There will undoubtedly be a curtailment of some programs and staff cuts," Hall said. "Having said that, it's difficult to know on a broader sense how to react when everyone is facing that kind of problem."

Colby expressed concern that cutbacks in the arts will affect downtown businesses, including hotels and restaurants: "We've done a lot to contribute to downtown business, and we're very proud of what we've done."

McGrory took pride in "making sure we keep the same number of sworn police officers" and in maintaining the same level of sanitation service. He also spared social-service agencies, which, he said, "the state, frankly, has bludgeoned."

Even so, 18 community-service officers will be eliminated in five police storefront operations, and McGrory hopes that volunteers will fill the void. This reduction accounts for a savings of $403,366.

He also hopes to eliminate two positions in investigations ("detectives will have to perform their own computer searches"); two positions in traffic; three in crime analysis; four in the police laboratory, and seven in the police academy.

"We've cut $36 million out of this budget in the last six months," McGrory said, "without having a significant impact on community services."

He hopes an anticipated $12-million windfall from the San Diego Unified Port District will "help restore some of the cuts," but such a promise offers little solace to dozens of potentially unemployed workers.

McGrory said that, until now, no one had been laid off out of 188 positions slashed within the past fiscal year.

But Gov. Pete Wilson's recent signature on a drastically reduced state budget marked a turning point in the city's expectations, McGrory said.

"Getting that big a hit at one time simply messed up our plans to avoid layoffs," he said.

He said that, over the next two weeks, employment discussions will "accelerate and expand," with the city offering "outplacement" and job-counseling services to all those affected.

McGrory said that, with the newest cuts, the city staff has been reduced within the past year from 7,000 to about 6,600, and the future offers little hope for anything better.

Even with a fresh cash infusion from the port--and that money isn't definite--McGrory called the revenue picture "volatile."

"I expect we'll be in a position, in the third or fourth week of December, where we'll have to completely re-evaluate our revenues," he said. "Our biggest concerns are property taxes, sales taxes and vehicle license fees. In this climate, all are very volatile sources of revenue.

"We may be looking at additional cuts later in the fiscal year. The economic indicators are not getting any better. As long as they continue to deteriorate, and we suffer the revenue losses because of that, we're going to have to cut."

McGrory said cutting budgeted but unfilled positions is one thing, dealing with human lives quite another.

"The last couple of weeks, there's been a lot of anxiety," he said, referring to City Hall. "I'd be telling you something untrue if I tried to say otherwise. Any kind of a cut like this is a tough one for all of us.

"When you start paring back to the extent that we're cutting, you're not just cutting meat off the body, you're cutting deep into bone."

San Diego County Arts Editor Susan Freudenheim contributed to this report.

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