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City budget gap grows

By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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The Rocklin City Council is now expected to make some hard choices to rescue the city from the sinking sand pit — the budget. City Manager Carlos Urrutia laid out the troubled financial picture during Last Tuesday’s city budget hearing. Sales tax revenues have dropped nearly 20 percent along with the housing crash that sent property taxes spiraling down. He said if the city continues on its current fiscal course, it will be using nearly $2.5 million of its $10 million cash reserves this year alone. “We have the luxury of reserves. There are a lot of struggling cities out there,” Urrutia said. “It took a long time to build the reserves and we’re eating it in a hurry.” If the revenues and expenditures stay flat, Urrutia estimates the city will be out of cash by 2012. Mayor Scott Yuill said the city’s savings needs to be protected for a potentially long recession. “This is going to be an economic struggle for the next five years,” Yuill said. “I represent the tax payers and I need to save them money. Running out of reserves is not an option.” That’s why the council is now expected to act with potentially more cuts, layoffs and furloughs. Urrutia recently started negotiating with the employees’ union to ask for a 5-percent, across the board cut in salaries which is projected to save the city nearly $1.5 million. Although Councilman George Magnuson said the city should consider going as high as 10 percent. “I don’t know how much we’ll get back, but every little bit will help,” Urrutia said. Two additional city employee furlough days may be part of the solution. Employees now have Fridays off without pay, except necessary emergency personnel. “Three-day furloughs is not fun, but it beats the alternative of being unemployed,” Magnuson said. Urrutia said if employees can’t make concessions, the city maybe forced to hire independent contractors to do some of the work of city employees which would ultimately lead to more layoffs. “We can get the work done for less by using private employees,” Urrutia said. “But when city employees see the depth of the problem, they will step up to the plate.” Yuill said economic development should be a focus for the city next year. “We need to be on the forefront and not just cut, cut, cut,” Yuill said. Councilman Brett Storey said a long-term approach needs to be considered. “Instead of keep biting at this apple, we need to have a plan,” Storey said. The council is expected to counsel with city staff to develop spending priorities so they can begin to make the tough decisions at a scheduled Jan. 23 budget workshop, which the public is invited to attend. According to the fire union, public pressure stopped a proposed cost-savings measure that would have periodically reduced the number of firefighters at Fire Station No. 3 on Wildcat Boulevard from three to two for emergency calls. During the budget hearing Tuesday, no one from the public chose to speak at the meeting and advise council. That’s something Councilman Peter Hill said needs to change. “We may get feedback from the citizens,” Hill said. “I hope people take this seriously. Our citizens are not feeling the pain of our cuts right now. But it will be more noticeable.”