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Finance Panel Urges Budget Cut, Utility Refund : Burbank: The report by local business people says city finances are in excellent condition.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A committee of business people appointed by Burbank’s mayor is urging the city to cut $7.4 million from its budget and refund $20 million to municipal utility users.

The committee, which conducted a three-month review of city finances, presented the Burbank City Council on Tuesday night with a report harshly criticizing some city spending policies while praising others.

“The City of Burbank is in excellent financial condition,” stated the report by Thomas M. Tunnicliffe, Dee Lewis and Dick Messer. “Compared to all levels of government, state, federal and other cities, Burbank stands out as extremely financially sound.”

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The report praised city officials for setting aside $82 million as cash reserves in the General Fund. But it also says the reserves are too high and advises reducing the fund to $56 million.

The report recommends that $20 million be transferred from the General Fund to the city’s Public Service Department, which operates the city-owned water and power utility and has a separate budget. The city should then cut its tax on utility users by $20 million, the report recommends. Much of that reduction would go to businesses, which are the city’s largest utility users, city officials said. Another $5 million would be transferred from the General Fund to the cash-pressed Burbank Unified School District.

The report also recommends reducing next year’s General Fund budget by $7.4 million, largely through cutting employee overtime by $4.5 million. Other savings would come from eliminating two unspecified paid holidays and changing contracts with employee unions to reduce sick days.

The report does not recommend laying off employees or reducing their salaries.

But it suggests that future salary increases should be tied to the consumer price index for the Los Angeles/Long Beach area. Currently, employee pay is calculated using a formula that compares Burbank salaries to those of Glendale, Pasadena, Inglewood and Santa Monica.

“Those cities aren’t necessarily well run,” Tunnicliffe said Wednesday. “We shouldn’t repeat their mistakes.”

The report also suggests selling $35 million in land owned by the city redevelopment agency. Committee members said they would provide a supplemental report on the redevelopment agency later.

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The report’s authors reviewed city expenses from Oct. 8 to Jan. 11 with the help of city finance officials. The three have been active in city affairs. Tunnicliffe and Lewis are real estate executives, while Messer is part-owner and general manager of the Burbank Airport Hilton. Messer is also a candidate for City Council.

The council thanked the committee members but did not discuss any specifics of the report, which was released just before the Tuesday night meeting.

Mayor Robert Bowne stressed that the report only reflected the views of its authors and was a candid assessment of city spending. He said many of their recommendations might be controversial or impractical, but the report “was a good jumping-off point” for a budget discussion.

“Some of these conclusions sound very neat but upon closer inspection are more complicated,” Bowne said. “Nothing has been sanitized. . . . This is what these three people really think.”

But Bowne said the council would schedule public hearings on the report as well as a separate budget report that is being developed by an 18-member citizens committee.

Assistant City Manager Steve Helvey, who provided the business committee with financial information, said that department heads and employee unions were very concerned about the report.

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“Everyone whose domain or salary or service they rely on is questioned gets a little worried,” Helvey said.

Tunnicliffe, the committee chairman, said he thought the proposals were fiscally prudent.

“I think people will realize that nothing we’re doing is that radical,” he said. “We’re treating the city as if it were business.”

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