Council works to eliminate $18M shortfall

CITY HALL — Glendale could see roughly $4 million in cuts to city programs and services as the City Council on Monday began wading through options for balancing a roughly $18-million budget shortfall for next year.

It is the fourth consecutive year the City Council will be forced to fill a major gap in the General Fund — which supports basic services like police and parks — as the city continues to weather stagnant tax- and construction-related revenues during the protracted recession.

The projected deficit was previously pegged at $16 million.

“We think this year we are starting to bottom out,” City Manager Jim Starbird said Monday, the first of up to a dozen City Council budget meetings scheduled through June.

Roughly half of the shortfall stems from employee-related costs, including the city’s rising bills for employee retirement and health care plan, according to a city report.

On top of rising costs, the gap takes into account the absence of the annual transfer of millions in water revenues from Glendale Water & Power, which last stood at $4.2 million. The City Council begrudgingly halted the practice after city attorneys determined it could be ruled unconstitutional.

The city’s current hiring freeze — which leaves 60 to 70 positions vacant at any one time on top of the nearly 100 positions eliminated from the city payroll during the recession — is expected to fill up to $7 million of the gap, but that will still leave millions for the City Council to grapple with.

“This is going to be a painful year of cuts,” Mayor Laura Friedman said. “Certainly, a lot of programs that the public has come to expect are going to be eliminated.”

Finance Director Bob Elliot on Monday gave an overview of strategies that will be presented in coming weeks — including asking for additional concessions from employee unions and the proposed $4.1-million cut in city programming.

City executives have gone department by department to rank all city services as discretionary, priority or essential, with the proposed cuts calling for the slashing of all discretionary programs.

Still, City Councilman Frank Quintero said he would be hesitant to approve the elimination of any city services as they review the department budgets in coming weeks.

“We aren’t even close to that yet,” he said. “I think I have a long, long way to go before I commit to cutting services to the city of Glendale. There’s an awful lot of options we can take before we get to that point.”

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