Sharing the Pain in Paradise

City Girds for Service Cuts, Layoffs, Very Long Meetings

<strong>THE MESSENGER:</strong> City Finance Director Robert Peirson delivered $10.5 million worth of bad news at the April 21 City Council meeting. Projected layoffs could hit 52 city government positions, though not all those positions equate to human employees.
Paul Wellman

In the weeks and months to come, Santa Barbarans will find the doors to their downtown and Eastside libraries locked on Mondays, Los Ba±os pool closed on Sundays, and the lower Westside Community Center closed seven days a week. Much to the outrage of animal lovers, the Police Department will lose one animal control officer. Weeds and litter will abound in city parks. Playing fields will be mowed less frequently. Boat owners at the city’s harbor will all but certainly find themselves paying higher slip fees. And the price will increase for people given parking tickets, seeking building permits, or retrieving their vehicles from the impound yard.

These are but a few of the many painful suggestions contained within the City of Santa Barbara’s proposed budget for the coming year, released after much nail-biting to the City Council this Tuesday. City Administrator Jim Armstrong explained that unless action was taken, the plunging economy would force City Hall into a $10.5 million deficit. His response-and that of the city Finance staff-is a document calling for $7.4 million in cuts to departments and programs paid for out of the city’s General Fund, which accounts for roughly half of Santa Barbara’s total spending in the form of police and fire protection, public works, parks and recreation, and community development.

That translates to layoffs of 52 of the city’s 1,085 positions, 22 of which are currently occupied by living, breathing workers, and the rest of which are vacancies that would remain unfilled. But those numbers don’t include the elimination of 17,000 hours worth of seasonal employees currently hired by the Parks & Recreation Department. That figure translates to 11 more full-time equivalents. “Each of these employees are human beings,” Armstrong told the City Council. “It’s important we do not refer to them as slots or bodies or positions.”

Many of the employees who hold onto their jobs will be asked to make concessions in terms of wage increases, benefit freezes, furloughs, and vacation time. Armstrong said he’s shooting for $1.5 million in givebacks, and has already negotiated $800,000 worth from the union representing the city’s managers.

“There’re a whole lot more on the layoff list rowing the boat than steering the boat,” said union leader George Green.

Currently, the largest union representing city workers-Service Employees International Union Local 620-has reached a stalemate with Armstrong. The union is willing to forgo $1.2 million worth of raises and benefits in exchange for no layoffs. Armstrong has declined to make such a commitment, arguing it doesn’t add up economically. Union representatives urged the City Council to order Armstrong back to the bargaining table. “There’re a whole lot more on the layoff list rowing the boat than steering the boat,” said union leader George Green.

When it comes to cuts, not all departments are created equal. The Police and Fire departments were expected to trim only 4.7 percent, while other General Fund departments cut closer to 10 percent. But even that reduced figure is more than Armstrong is asking either department to actually accommodate. Initially, it appeared the Fire Department would have to impose rolling blackouts at each of its eight station houses and reduce the crew size for some fire trucks. Thanks to the hefty mutual aid payments due the Santa Barbara department for helping out with some of the regional infernos from last year, that is no longer on the table. In fact, the department will actually get a slight increase in funding over what it received last year.

Likewise, the Police Department will not lose sworn officer positions; Armstrong assumes federal grant funds will cover these positions, though he won’t know for sure until September. But even with these grants, the Police Department has proposed the elimination of six non-sworn positions, including one animal control officer.

Armstrong has recommended many organizations receiving direct payments from City Hall-such as Old Spanish Days-be cut back by 8.4 percent, though human-service grants will remain the same. Parks & Recreation will experience the largest reduction in actual funding-$1.5 million-and the biggest number of employees laid off-13 full-time and 17,000 hours from seasonal hourly workers. Throughout the years, Parks & Rec has maintained the city’s waterfront and parking lots; Armstrong is proposing that it now bill those departments-which are not funded by the General Fund but rather by revenues they generate-for its services to the tune of $480,000. This has sparked a mini-uproar among boat owners worried they will pay higher slip fees.

The council will hold public hearings in coming weeks on the proposed budget, which must be adopted no later than June 23. Meanwhile, Armstrong urged councilmembers to let the proposed budget seep in before rendering judgment. “It’s easy to attack the messenger or look for easy fixes,” he said. “I hope we can get beyond that.”


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