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Council Will Consider Mostly Layoffs to Balance Budget

The move is required in order to reopen contracts with employee groups.

The City Council will consider a layoffs-heavy approach, eliminating 10 jobs including fire chief, to address a projected $1.7 million budget shortfall when it meets 7 p.m. Tuesday at . But jobs could be saved if employee groups agree to other concessions.

At this point, the city is not looking at fee increases to tackle the deficit in its $30 million annual general fund budget.

A report prepared by city staff outlines a set of cuts that would offset the $1.7 million and includes cutting the fire chief and two firefighter positions. The  Police Department would lose a patrol officer, a night lieutenant and a sergeant in the investigations division and the animal control officer. It also suggested eliminating an IT analyst, a library manger and the community preservation officer, who assists with fire code enforcement.

Cutting the fire chief position would save the city $284,806 in salary and benefits.  The two firefighter positions, if cut, would save an additional $282,150. The cuts from the Police Department would total nearly $650,000. In all, the layoffs would mean $1.56 million in savings.

The balance of the $1.7 million would come from cutting support for community groups and the amount the city sets aside for internal funds such as vehicle replacement and facility maintenance.

At a budget study session last week, the City Council directed staff to come up with ways to address the shortfall using all means necessary even if it meant service cuts — something it had been reluctant to do in the recent past.

That budget discussion began on an ominous note when Finance Director Rob Sousa said, "We have some difficult budget news to talk about."

He noted the that have beset the city, most notably large drops in property tax and sales tax revenues, and the to offset those losses.

Sousa said the long-range budget forecast shows a structural deficit of $1.7 million per year — the most likely scenario — for the next two years and beyond. He acknowledged that the estimates could be off by as much as $600,000, meaning the deficit could be as high as $2.3 million or as low as $1.1 million.

After questioning and comments by members of the City Council and the public, the council voted 3-2 to direct city staff to develop a list of cuts that would erase a deficit of $1.7 million.

The dissenters, Councilmen and, wanted the spending plan to assume the worst-case scenario, arguing that if the revenue picture brightened the city could adjust the spending plan upward. They pointed out that budgets for the past two years had been based on the most-likely revenue stream but that the worst-case scenarios had been what transpired.

The three yes votes came from, who announced her intention to last month, and Councilmen Mark and, who both are.

One way to avoid the layoffs is if the employee groups agree to wage and benefit concessions, but the only way to reopen the contracts is if the negotiations are meant as a way to avoid layoffs.

City Manager Brad Kilger, who was the primary architect of the budget-cutting plan, was quick to point out that the list is not meant as a blueprint for staffing levels: "The list was written as a way to cover a shortfall, not as an organizational end game."

Kilger is familiar with using one administrator to run both the police and fire departments. Ceres, the city he worked for before Benicia, has a public safety department. The head of that department, Art Dewark, is a career police officer. In California, because of the certifications required to run a police department, career firefighters such as Benicia Fire Chief Steve Vucurevich cannot run public safety departments.

Kilger says he never discussed the possibility of running a public safety department with recently promoted Chief of Police Andrew Bidou when he was considering Bidou for the job.

As for the possibility of losing Vucurevich, Kilger is not happy. “I think Steve is a great guy. He’s an exceptional fire chief. We’re in tough times and sometimes you have to make tough decisions.”

LK May 02, 2011 at 05:08 PM
I think it is time for the city to get serious about courting businesses to get sales tax revenues and stop trying to balance the budget on its employees. Its time for the city to stop thinking big business and retail chains are all bad. Their are business out their that won't hurt existing business. People will not change their habits because a chain store is now in the area.
"The Black Panther of Poetry" May 02, 2011 at 05:14 PM
And we have two more years of this, at least!!!
Robert Livesay May 02, 2011 at 05:35 PM
There will be no layoffs, just retirement and attrition. There will be across the board salary cuts and CalPers and healthcare contribution increase by city employees. Give the new city manager some credit. Bob Livesay
JB Davis (Editor) May 02, 2011 at 09:49 PM
That's what I'm thinking Bob. The lay off notices had to go out in order for the city to re-open the contracts.
Tim May 02, 2011 at 10:08 PM
So why the Fire Chief. It is an "at will" position. No contract to re-open. Let's get all the facts.
Robert Livesay May 02, 2011 at 10:54 PM
Thanks JB. I would say the Fire Chief is at or near retirement age. I think it was just a statement of what could be. Believe me, have some confidence in our new city manager. He would not sound off like that without some prior knowledge. As I said only attrition and retirement. Bob Livesay
LK May 03, 2011 at 04:10 PM
I agree with doing it through attrition. I also agree with giving the new city manager a chance and some credit. But they need to address future city funding and business taxes paid to the city is a big part of the budget. If you keep not filling positions and making employee salary less competitive you are going to wind up with city employees using the city as a training ground and you lose all the experience. That's why in my original comment I said the city needs to court businesses to help with the deficet in the budget. Downtown is a nice place but just look at the vacancies. Their are places downtown that have not had a tenant since they been built.
Robert Livesay May 03, 2011 at 06:15 PM
L K; You are right about the business end. It will not happen with the present mayor and some council members. Mario is doing a great job, but faced some big problems that will take time to overcome. The one agenda mayor is no help at all. Her enviro, greenie stuff can wait till budget and future city revenue is taken care of. Then move in that direction. For now take a rest and put efforts on city revenue and the budget. Bob Livesay
Kathy silva May 04, 2011 at 04:02 AM
My husband is a 30 year employee with the city.. He took a 3 percent pay cut in November with the understanding that these positions would be saved now they are asking him to take kore of a cut to save the same positions?? Somthing seems fishy to me..let's take the housing allowance away from the city manager and all the car allowances away from the top brass !!
Robert Livesay May 04, 2011 at 04:09 AM
Your point is well taken, but remember the healthcare and CalPers benefits all city employees get. Your husband is no exception. 1 % of 8% city employees pay for there side of the CalPers. Remember the city side of CalPers is about 20% or more. Your deal is very good. But it is about to change, be prepared for another justified hit. Bob Livesay
Really? May 04, 2011 at 05:44 AM
What about all the years that the city did not pay into Calpers and employees continued to pay their part? I see the City was getting a pretty good deal then. What did the city do with those savings Bob? These things are cyclical and will get better. We just need to weather the storm. Gutting peoples salary and pensions is not the answer. Look at all the fluff services our city provides. Lets cut the excess services before we cut any more employee compensation. They need to support their families too. It's funny how some of the biggest critics are the unemployed non tax paying people who always want to take away from those who are working hard to earn a living and support themselves.
Kathy silva May 04, 2011 at 07:06 AM
Yahoo to that comment !!
Kathy silva May 04, 2011 at 07:12 AM
Bob my husband wS promised those compensations ad part of hrs contract and lifelong service to the city. Want to change he's contract and start paying for all the hours he works without pay? Ok that's a fair trade because unlike the fire dept and police dept he dosent get paid overtime or comp time . So keys start paying he's sakery for all the middle of the night calls he gets a month to go out on energancys fair trade?? What do say bob
Kathy silva May 04, 2011 at 07:13 AM
Sorry for spelling errors I'm on my cell
Robert Livesay May 04, 2011 at 02:54 PM
Kathy your husband does collective bargaining every year. Is it OK to get healthcare for free, untill recently they put a cap on it at $1575 per month? That will be negotiated with healthcare providers to not exceed the cap amount. Believe me I am retired and pay a lot more than zero for healthcare, no company healthcare for me and many others. I do not complain about it either. I am sorry foloks the answer is a cut in salary, increase in CalPers and Healthcare benefits. Maybe you should talk to the mayor/council and ask them to quit taking the benefits. Every little bit helps. We are in a budget crisis now, IT MUST BE DONE. Remember MOU's are opened every year for new bargaining. Just look back on what you got. Do you not want to save your fellow employees jobs? I would hope you would. Just follow what I have said all along and will have the answers. I am not very far off. Bob Livesay
Mike Hunt May 04, 2011 at 03:07 PM
Bob Livsay you are very far off.    I really don't understand your point in all of this. When people look for employment they look at what the employer offers as fas as salary, benefits and working conditions. This is what attracted most if not all city employee to accept positions with Benicia. Obviously you are upset that you did not pick a employer like this. You have no clue BOB. 
Mike Hunt May 04, 2011 at 03:26 PM
Bob. Answer the question about when the city did not have to pay into CalPers and employees still were paying. What then?
Robert Livesay May 04, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Mike I do know what I am talking about. I worked in the private sector all of my working life. Believe me I did not go to work for benefits. In the private sector things changed all the time. I respect puplic service employees, but they are no better than private sector employees. They all work hard and get paid for what they do. Try working in the fields , some time. I did it and was happy as a kid for the money. Puplic sector employees have a very good benefit package. There are times when it needs to be adjusted. Who pays into your retirement ? City pays employee share 7 of 8 %, plus additional amount as high as 25 %. Do you have that. Free healthcare, do you have that. All the tax payers are asking is for more contributions and no lay offs of city employees. Is that not a nice trade off or do you not care about the ones that could get layed off? In the private sector you do not have those choices. That was OK , we accepted and did not complain. Get with the program and get some of my very good clues. You will feel better and sleep better at night. By the way are you related to any of the Hunts folks in town or Martinez. By the way spell my last name right. Bob Livesay
Robert Livesay May 04, 2011 at 03:34 PM
Mike there are two sides to CalPers the employee side and the employer side. The city pays all of the employer side. The employee pays 1 of 8 %. Not a bad deal. There was a time that the employer side was much lower, but to make sure the employees had there retirement the city now pays a considerable amount to maintain the balance. Who makes up the difference when your 401K go es down. Do the tax payers? A great big no. try that one on for size. Bob Livesay
Mike Hunt May 04, 2011 at 03:34 PM
Bob. You say you don't complain about the fact you have to pay for health care but you are. Every post you make you complain about health care and that is complaining. You want the council to stop getting benefits. Why? Do you not feel they deserve it? All I'm hearing is complaining.
Robert Livesay May 04, 2011 at 03:46 PM
Not complaining Mike. Just facts. Get your thoughts RIGHT. You are the one crying. Not me. I did OK in my life and am not complaining. How about you? Bob Livesay
Mike Hunt May 04, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Bob Livsay. When I chose my career path I looked at every avenue. I looked at private sector and public sector. I also looked into all benefit packages provided by the employer. This included retirement and post retirement benefits. I currently work for a city (not Benicia), and made that decision on all benefits provided. I am a tax payer in Benicia and feel that our city employee are top notch. I do feel our council deserves thet benefits they get. I have full support of our council and city manager in doing their job. I also know that our city employees will make the salary cuts needed. I just feel this is a time to come together and be positive. I feel that the negative post by you and others is only adding to the problem.
Mike Hunt May 04, 2011 at 04:06 PM
See just more negative bashing by Livsay.... Crying... No just laughing at you and you disrespect for the service employee providing you the great City of Benicia. I'm done
Robert Livesay May 04, 2011 at 04:18 PM
Mike I do not know what city you work for. But I do know all the city's around Benicia have had much larger cuts than Benicia is considering. Lay offs, reduced work hours, CalPers and Healthcare benefit contributions. I believe the proposed changes for city employees in Benicia is much better and well thought out. No lay offs. I think the city employees will be very pleased with the final results and will be more than happy tp help out. We do need them and want them to stay and do their jobs. They will do everything possible to make this work. Know one complaining, just saying what needs to be d0ne for everyones benefit. Bob Livesay

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