Glendale to avoid layoffs in closing $1.2 million budget gap

Glendale officials plan to close a $1.2 million budget gap for next fiscal year without reducing staff or using money put aside for police vacancies.

Compared to budget gaps of $15.4 million and $18 million, respectively, over the past two years, the much smaller figure this time around is a sign that Glendale’s fiscal future is improving after taking a beating during the protracted recession and the loss of redevelopment, City Manager Scott Ochoa said at a budget study session this week.

“We have turned the corner economically,” Ochoa said.

There are, however, challenges ahead, including the need to raise revenues for the city’s libraries. That could be solved by implementing a parcel tax, a proposal that may be placed on a June 2014 ballot if it gets a favorable reception at public meetings to be held this fall.

Councilman Zareh Sinanyan said he wanted the city to shift funds to lengthen library hours, but Mayor Dave Weaver said that has been a recurring request that’s gone unfulfilled due to lack of resources.

“Show me the money,” Weaver said.

The library is set to get $7.8 million from the General Fund this coming fiscal year, about $5.4 million of which will cover salaries and benefits. The total budget is about $43,000 less than the prior year.

Glendale officials plan to close the gap in the proposed $170.7 million General Fund budget, which pays for police, parks and other general services, by using $1.6 million they received from the state after dissolving the city’s redevelopment agency — an act that had huge reverberations at City Hall.

Since redevelopment — through which cities used higher property taxes from improved properties to fund more development and abate economic blight — also paid for several city salaries and projects, Glendale took a big financial hit when California lawmakers ended it last year and allocated its funding to help close the state's own budget gap.

While additional layoffs and redirecting money set aside for filling police vacancies had initially been proposed for the small city budget gap for fiscal year 2013-14, it would likely have been nowhere near the restructuring that took place the last two go-arounds, in which the city relied on early retirements, layoffs and eliminating open positions.

The proposed $170.7-million General Fund budget, which if approved next month would take effect in July, is about 3% more than what the city spent last year.

Fire and Public Works departments are set to receive the biggest budget gains. For the Fire Department, that comes from an agreed-upon cost-of-living raise. Public Works extra costs partially come via street-light and traffic-signal maintenance, a cost once covered by Glendale Water & Power.

But in addition to the desire for more library funding, another potentially costly bill looms on the horizon. Starting in January, a provision of the federal Affordable Care Act that requires healthcare for hourly workers takes effect.

Glendale officials are still crunching the numbers on how much their healthcare bill will increase because of the law, but Ochoa said there are about 150 hourly workers, out of 1,605 employees, that would be impacted by the change.

Ochoa said Glendale must continue to work smarter, not harder, and reduce costs. New strategies to do so include implementing a new style of code enforcement that takes a page from the Police Department’s community policing program, which amps up involvement with the community to prevent violations before they occur.

The city is also working on a program that incentivizes departments to save money.

A hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for June 11, with the City Council slated to give a final vote on June 25.

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