Council approves layoffs, cuts to balance budget

The City Council on Tuesday voted to axe $4.6 million in city services, raise fees for public services and lay off eight employees to balance the budget.

The move came after months of wrangling at City Hall regarding a projected $18-million shortfall in the $170-million General Fund, which pays for basic public services like police, firefighters and libraries.

Having already shaved more than 100 vacant positions in recent years, the new budget eliminates dozens more, leaving eight full-time employees with pink slips. The layoffs include a park naturalist, a public education coordinator for the Fire Department, and others who work in parks, public works, finance and GTV6, the city’s cable TV channel.

The budget cuts also could affect hourly workers, who would not be eligible for severance pay.

More than half the cuts come from the Public Works and Community Services & Parks departments, which will be forced to eliminate a range of family events, outings for local seniors and the city’s annual holiday tree lighting ceremony.

Protests from residents saved two library branches from the chopping block, although one would have been transformed into a community center and potential revenue generator.

Open-space programming at Deukmejian Wilderness Park and funding for the day laborer work center across from the Home Depot on San Fernando Road also was eliminated in the 2011-12 budget.

“This is the end of a very long budget journey,” Finance Director Bob Elliot said.

Also included in the budget is a range of new fees for city services, from animal licenses to permits, that city officials project will raise $1.3 million in the coming year.

“This is a prudent budget,” said Councilman Ara Najarian. “It is a responsible budget and most importantly it is a balanced budget.”

But even with the cuts, City Manager Jim Starbird has warned that the budget’s balance is precarious, since it relies on $3 million in savings from employee salary and benefit concessions — much of which has yet to materialize as city officials continue closed-door negotiations with the city’s employee unions.

The budget also relies on another $3 million in savings from a hiring freeze in place since 2009.

“For the first time since the downturn, we are depending on the savings from those frozen positions to balance the budget,” Starbird said last week. “That is a relatively risky move, certainly more risky than we have utilized in the past two years.”

Rafi Manoukian was only council member to vote against the budget, saying he was against raising and introducing new fees, and would rather eliminate vacant positions than freeze them. And instead of revamping the city’s ambulance services, he said they should be contracted out.

“I disagree with the strategies being proposed,” Manoukian said. “I don’t believe it will serve the best interest of the community in the long run.”

It was the fourth year in a row that Glendale has faced a significant budget gap as property and sales taxes and construction-related revenues remain stagnant amid rising costs for employee health and pension benefits.

Despite the deep cuts, the City Council elected to maintain police-sponsored programming for at-risk youth and an annual $10,000 cash contribution to the Montrose Christmas Parade.

A final decision on whether to provide $80,000 in city funding for the city’s float in the Tournament of Roses was put on hold for roughly a month to see how much money can be raised through community fundraising.

Mayor Laura Friedman said the General Fund — part of the city’s overall $849-million budget — focused on delivering core services during tight financial times.

“I think we have really done the best we can to prioritize the programs we are going to keep,” she said.

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