SAN CLEMENTE : Council to Decide on Proposed Cuts

City Hall will close an hour earlier, police officers will take fewer non-emergency reports, some streets will remain in disrepair and residents will have to start making appointments to meet with city staff, under budget cut proposals unveiled Friday.

In an effort to cope with an unexpected loss of $604,500 in property tax and vehicle license fee revenue, City Manager Michael W. Parness is recommending that the city cut services and eliminate 11 1/2 positions, including two unfilled posts in the Police Department.

About three employees, including a Fire Department battalion chief and a communications clerk, will lose their jobs under the reduction plan.

"None of the choices presented were easy to develop, nor will they be adopted without recognizing the pain and sacrifice that will result," Parness said in the report. "Some city employees will have their lives and professions disrupted, remaining employees will once again be asked to do more with less and local citizens will no longer enjoy many of the public services and conveniences that were once considered basic."

In addition to the loss in general fund revenue, the city also lost $148,000 in redevelopment funds to the state, which means officials will once again have to hold off on making needed street and storm-drain repairs and replenishing dwindling emergency reserve funds.

The City Council is expected to take final action on the cost-cutting recommendations during a special hearing Wednesday. Making matters worse, city officials are projecting shortfalls over the next five years.

Among the more long-term, cost-cutting options that will be considered by the council is the controversial proposal to disband the Police Department and hire the County Sheriff's Department to take over police services, a move that could save the city about $1.3 million in the first year alone.

While such a drastic measure is not needed to deal with the immediate shortfall, Parness is recommending that the council seek a detailed analysis from the Sheriff's Department on what costs would be involved.

Meanwhile, police officers have collected more than 6,000 signatures from residents in support of keeping the Police Department, said Officer John Coppock, president of the San Clemente Peace Officers Assn.

"The option is still on the table," Coppock said. "It's not going to happen within the next month or so, but it's still a dark cloud over our heads."

In addition to cuts, the council will also be considering possible ways to raise more money, including increasing parking meters to 25 cents for 15 minutes and enacting a 5% utility tax, which would raise about $2.6 million annually but would cost homeowners about $10 per month.

The most recent round of cuts comes only three months after the council cut almost $2 million in city services, including the elimination of 13 1/2 jobs, to balance the city's $20-million general fund budget.

About 81% of the city work force has already accepted a pay freeze, while all employees have been asked to take a four-day unpaid work furlough and accept a reduction in medical benefits, Parness said.

So far, the city management staff and some employees have agreed to the reductions.

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