Council proposes efforts to fill budget gap

NEWPORT BEACH — The City Council on Tuesday used its second of three planned budget study sessions to discuss laying off workers, outsourcing maintenance and merging the Utilities and General Services departments.

Officials are discussing plans to streamline departments in an effort to close an $8-million budget gap for the fiscal year 2011-12.

City Manager Dave Kiff said the changes could result in about 19 layoffs citywide.

At its last study session May 10, the council discussed changes to the police and fire departments, amounting to $3.4 million in savings.

On Tuesday, the largest piece of the savings puzzle was a reduction in the Municipal Operations Department budget, amounting to $1.6 million.

The Municipal Operations Department, which runs park maintenance and refuse collection, plans to eliminate eight positions and outsource street sweeping and other services.

Some of the potential citywide layoffs include the senior engineering technician, the public works specialist and three part-time library positions. Certain vacant positions will also be left unfilled.

Smaller savings are expected from measures such as eliminating certain benefits for City Council members, changing the way Newport Beach TV is run, and automating processes.

Although the council’s discussion centered on departments outside of public safety, Newport residents lined up to urge the council not to cut firefighters, lifeguards and police.

Kiff also proposed a less-drastic alternative to the measure proposed May 10 to cut costs for lifeguard services while keeping public safety a priority.

“I think there is a certain standard of service expected in Newport Beach,” Kiff said, calling the new plan a gentler alternative to cut costs.

The plan would reduce the need for layoffs but save nearly as much money by restructuring the department.

Councilman Keith Curry said the new plan showed that applying logic and eliminating “silly rules” could lead to significant savings with fewer layoffs.

“We can make sure the beaches are safe and make sure we also use our personnel wisely,” Curry said.

Curry asked for more detailed reports on overtime hours citywide. Other council members also said lifeguard salaries should be re-evaluated.

“There are some things that have just passed outside the fairness level with regards to the salaries,” said Councilman Rush Hill.

The council will continue its discussion June 14.