All city departments face cutbacks

CITY HALL – The city’s project budget deficit was revised to $9.7 million Tuesday, nearly $3 million more than the original estimate, as the City Council started combing through departments in search of cost-cutting measures.

Each of the city’s divisions Tuesday began the process of painting a picture for the council on what a 5% cutback would look like.

“We really [only] have bodies to cut at this point,” Planning Director Hassan Haghani said.

City officials have said repeatedly that layoffs would be avoided this budget cycle, even as city revenues have continued to tumble amid the ongoing recession.

Haghani told the council that layoffs were the only way to reach the $170,000 cut to his department since there were no other vacant positions to slash. The city is already in a hiring freeze.

Cutting 5% from each city department would carve $3.5 million from the projected budget shortfall, according to a city report.

In addition to the initial “hard adjustments” made to balance last year’s budget, including the elimination of 66 positions, Assistant City Manager Bob McFall offered up several other options to the City Council on Tuesday, including continuing the hiring freeze, reducing overhead costs and consolidating operations and services.

The council could also call for an additional 1% across-the-board reduction, or forced unpaid furloughs or reduced hours.

“To reflect the community vision is an ongoing challenge for us,” McFall said.

After each of the 16 city departments makes their presentation over the course of the next two weeks, the City Council is expected to wade through how to impose anticipated reductions of between 5% and 7.5%.

Councilwoman Laura Friedman urged the community to get involved in the process.

“As we go forward, public participation will be very important in this process,” she said.

At the rate the city is headed, the unavoidable outcome is crashing toward doing more with less.

Already, Haghani said, his staff has been volunteering on the weekends without pay in order to help push through three historic district designations. At least three operations will be consolidated this year, McFall said. Fleet management use has been consolidated from four to one, saving about $1 million.

And reducing the take-home vehicle fleet from 105 to 57 is saving the city an additional $1 million, he added.

Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services George Chapjian highlighted several cuts that his department had recently made in an effort to achieve $650,000 in savings, such as eliminating five vacant positions and reducing the operating hours at five facilities. The department also plans to eliminate six additional vacant positions.

Finance Director Bob Elliot still has to determine where to shave $12,000 from his department’s budget in order to reach the 5% target after having already cut $198,000.

City Council members said balancing the budget this year would be a particularly daunting task.

“What is our core mission?” Councilman Ara Najarian asked. “Each of us has a different perception of what is core.”

He said the community wants to be safe, conduct business, have access to hospitals, get uninterrupted electricity service and fresh water. But there are other services to consider, he added.

“Are libraries core?” Najarian asked. “For some they are essential. For others they are not. Are ball fields core? Some yes. Some no.”

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