Wednesday May 26 2010
More layoffs on horizon?
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
The city of Rocklin moved closer to layoffs Saturday after directing staff during a public budget hearing to finalize the new fiscal budget with millions of dollars in cuts. As the great recession lags on, property taxes and sales tax collections are down and the state continues to create doubt with local funding raids including gas taxes, according to the city. Despite ongoing efforts by city council, management and staff, the 2010-11 budget will continue the draw down of city reserves to the tune of nearly half a million dollars starting July 1. Right now the city is in the middle of negotiations with employee unions to eliminate cost of living raises and accept another year of furlough Fridays. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) management and confidential worker groups have taken the concessions while police and fire unions remain holdouts. According to city documents, the city is prepared to layoff 11 workers including a custodian, office assistants, a streets maintenance worker, community service coordinators, a building inspector and two firefighter/paramedics. “We’re in tough times citywide,” American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union Vice President Bret Finning said. “Employees have done a lot to help the city. The public needs to stand up and make it known what programs they want to continue.” Police The Police Department plans to lay off one full-time police officer, one part-time traffic sergeant, one K-9 unit, freeze more vacant positions as well as reduce overtime and eliminate a motorcycle from the fleet. Police Chief Mark Siemens told the council the nearly 20-percent reduction in sworn staff over the last couple of years has made the Rocklin Police Department one of the smallest departments in the state. “We are having a hard time making out day to day payables with staff reductions,” Siemens said. “There are a number of things we need to change in our department to meet demands. We’ll make it work.” The city has cut staff from a high of 320 city workers to nearly 250. With more cuts on the way, City Manager Carlos Urrutia said it’s hard to maintain programs at current staffing levels. “I am concerned about our ability to operate if we continue to trim the workforce,” Urrutia said. The hearing identified several programs that would be significantly affected by a lack of staff available to support them including the state-mandated sprinkler inspection program starting in 2011. All new construction would need to be reviewed by the fire department but right now that staff is significantly reduced. Fire Two firefighter/paramedics, a senior administrative analyst and a host of fire prevention programs are targeted for elimination. Fire Chief Bill Mikesell said he’s concerned about the department’s ability to support fire prevention programs. “When you cut firefighter or staff positions, it does not come without cost,” Mikesell said. Mikesell said the city’s ISO rating may be affected. Most insurance carriers use what is known as ISO to determine the quality of fire protection available and therefore establish insurance rates. On a one to 10 scale (one being the best), Rocklin maintains a three. “I am fearful we can maintain a three today,” Mikesell said. “Any further cuts will jeopardize that.” The council discussed pulling funds set aside for fire protection for the city’s wild-land areas paid annually to Cal Fire. No action was taken after Mikesell advised council that when a fire breaks out, Cal Fire’s inevitable bill would far exceed the more than $28,000 the city pays every year to have them available. “We looked into it,” Mikesell said. “You can pull the funds, but if you need Cal Fire, you are going to pay per hour and that would eat that $30,000 so fast.” The council is considering a program to bill non-Rocklin residents for fire response if they get into accidents in Rocklin. The program is expected to raise nearly $30,000 in new revenues, but some council members had reservations about the potential negative impacts of the program. “It wouldn’t take long for us to be in the negative on this issue if there was a lawsuit,” Councilman George Magnuson said. Opportunities for savings Despite no comments brought by the public, the council looked for opportunities for additional savings. Urrutia recommended delaying depreciation and replacement of the city’s fleet of vehicles that could put off hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses until next year. Council directed staff to delay the project that would create the proposed Civic Center Boulevard and put the money toward Rocklin Road improvements, which may include two roundabouts at Meyers and Grove streets. At the hearing, a debate was raised over the city’s annual expense of gold pins to recognize city employees for years worked. “I would at least like to put in the budget to buy the pins,” Hill said. According to city officials, the city spends nearly $7,000 on gold pins, but ideas abounded about an alternative to recognize city workers. “I’d rather keep fire and policemen on,” Councilwoman Kathy Lund said. Finning, who represents the city workers’ union, said the pins aren’t as important as the $11,500 Employee Assistance Program that council targeted for elimination in January. “The employee service awards are nice,” Finning said. “But I was always taught it is the thought that counts, not what you get. A certificate is fine. Personally retaining the EAP program is much more important.” Some council members expressed an interest in saving the EAP program but it was unclear how they would find the money. “I think it is a time of extreme stress,“ Hill said. “The low-cost program gives employees some help.” Despite the grim outlook for the budget, Mayor Scott Yuill said the city is ready for things to turn around as departments work diligently to try to keep from laying off more workers. “Rocklin is in a position to grow well when the economy turns around,” Yuill said. “There will be good times as soon as we get through these bad times.” The final budget is expected to be addressed at the 6 p.m., June 22 at the city council meeting. The public is invited to comment. Pink slips are expected to go out July 1.