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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chico Leaves Five Public Safety Positions Vacant

 Chico police, fire not safe from budget cuts

By Katy Sweeny - The Chico Enterprise-Record

CHICO, Calif. — With a possible deficit of $2.2 million for the next fiscal year, the Chico city manager recommended Tuesday to leave five public safety positions vacant.

City Manager Dave Burkland told the Chico City Council that reducing the police and fire departments' staff "would have an impact on service delivery."

Community non-profits, the library, arts programs and economic development are also on the funding cut list, Burkland said.

Burkland outlined his recommended cuts to the Chico City Council Tuesday night during their second budget study session for the fiscal year that starts in July. Councilwoman Mary Goloff was absent from the meeting for medical reasons.

The city manager recommended keeping three firefighter jobs unfilled as well as two for retiring police officers. Six other positions are marked for vacancy, including one for a police services administrative manager, one code enforcement officer, two maintenance workers and two administrative analysts.

Burkland also recommended cutting non-salary costs for expenses such as non-mandatory training, supplies and educational reimbursement. The city could also delay replacing its vehicles and increase its fees.

In the instance of fire department cuts, Burkland said the fire chief could chose to cut one position from a truck daily or close a station.

Councilman Bob Evans said with the reduction in planning permits, he would expect staff to be cut from planning rather than police and fire.

Burkland said Chico has decreased its planning staff, but revenue currently covers their salaries.

"If they don't cover that, they know we're going to lose positions," he said.

The Chico Police Officers' Association president Will Clark asked the council if city management would cut redevelopment jobs "instead of subtracting from the vital public safety side."

Burkland said staff in the departments that billed the now abolished redevelopment agency know they need to bring in revenue to support themselves. However, two positions in the housing and neighborhood services department will be eliminated "not just for a lack of work, but for a lack of funding."

Considering the city has reduced its support staff 22 percent in four years, Burkland said he does not recommend cutting those positions more.

"We need those to be able to stay in compliance to be able to support the council and the community," Burkland said.

The alternatives to Burkland's recommendations are furloughs, wage and benefit concessions, layoffs, increased taxes and reduced services, he said.

In the current fiscal year that ends June 30, the city is running over on spending by almost $1 million, said Jennifer Hennessy, city finance director. Operating expenses exceeded projections due to police and fire overtime, falling short on the early retirement program and non-salary costs.

To cut expenses before July, Burkland plans to: reduce the rate of overtime, hold six vacant positions open, freeze non-mandatory training, share office supplies and expenses, delay major purchases and transfer unencumbered transportation funds for street maintenance costs.

On another budget issue, the council voted 5-1 to approve Evans' financial priorities with a modification. Evans dissented, saying without numbered financial priorities, he finds himself in the awkward position of voting against his request.

Evans had asked that the city; one, restore reserves; two, restore services with staffing; and three, negotiate employee compensation.

Councilman Mark Sorensen said he thinks the council should strike the numbered priorities that seem like council members are "trying to make them commandments."

The council also voted 6-0 to approve Goloff's absence through the April 18 meeting and consider it again in May if she doesn't return.

Regarding a beer license for the Last Stand Comedy Venue at 167 E. Third St., no council or audience members asked to pull the item from the consent agenda. The council voted 6-0 to make a determination allowing for the license.
Source:  Chico Enterprise-Record  - Link

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