Newport budget includes staffing reductions

NEWPORT BEACH — The City Council on Tuesday finalized a spending plan for the 2011-12 fiscal year that balances the budget but makes significant staffing reductions.

Officials plan to vote on the budget June 28. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The new budget means changes for lifeguards and the city's helicopter policing program. The council used the last of three scheduled study sessions to finalize the changes.

Newport's operating budget for the next fiscal year is about $255 million, which includes a general fund budget of about $150 million.

"This year's budget process involved some of the most challenging decisions and changes that the community has seen in many years," City Manager Dave Kiff said Wednesday. "In the end, the City Council, the city staff and the community really stepped up to focus on what's important for Newport Beach."

In total, the city closed a projected $8-million budget gap. In its previous study sessions, the council agreed to changes amounting to a $3.4-million savings from the police and fire departments and a $1.6 million savings from the Municipal Operations Department, among others.

There will now be 762 full-time positions with the city, down from 833 in 2009-10 and 805 in 2010-11. Some vacant positions will be left unfilled, but Kiff said at the May 25 study session that he expected about 19 layoffs.

Among the changes finalized Tuesday, lifeguard reorganization and pension reforms led to savings of $700,000. The council decided to endorse a plan that lays off one of the 13 year-round guards, and has "small impacts" to the seasonal guards, according to Kiff. It also eliminates four vacant year-round positions.

A previous proposal would have laid off five of the year-round guards, and another proposal would have laid off 35 seasonal employees. Also, the guards will have to operate with less overtime and will have to pick up more of their pension costs. Today, they pay 3.5% of their pensions, but the budget assumes they will contribute 9% and all new hires will have a less-generous plan.

The city also is entering a short-term contract with the city of Huntington Beach to cover its helicopter law enforcement service, beginning July 1. The AirBorne Law Enforcement program, or ABLE, was a partnership with Costa Mesa that dissolved in February.

The contract with Huntington Beach gives Newport Beach the opportunity to strike a longer-term deal with Surf City or look at regional or private arrangements, Kiff said. A one-year, extendable contract with Huntington Beach would cost the city $700 per hour with 1,000 hours of flying time.

The city also altered its Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, or D.A.R.E. Instead of having a pricey sworn police officer visit schools for the program, the city plans to have a "D.A.R.E.-like" program led by a part-time uniformed officer.

The Community Emergency Response Team, or C.E.R.T., will continue to be supervised by the same position, which reports to the Fire Department. Program volunteers resisted a proposal to place C.E.R.T. under the supervision of lifeguards.

Mayor Mike Henn said he wanted the city to continue looking at ways it can outsource services and retain high quality, saying there are "no sacred cows." Kiff also expressed that although the 2011-12 budget is finished, it will not be the end of the discussion.

"We still have some tough decisions to make in the years ahead, but I believe this year set the stage for continued good cooperation," he said.

—Staff Writer Mike Reicher contributed to this report.

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