Proposed budget shows city on mend

City Manager projects no draw down of cash reserves to balance budget
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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The City of Rocklin has announced the new fiscal year budget is projected to be balanced without the use of cash reserves. Rocklin has been dipping into its own savings to the tune of $6.3 million since the recession started in 2007, according to the city. The only bright spot was 2010/2011 when the city banked $14,939 in reserves for the year. Last week, Rocklin City Manager Rick Horst announced the budget with a memo to the City Council explaining some key reasons behind the numbers. ?We are delighted that we have not had to draw down the city?s reserves in order to balance the budget,? Horst said. The outlook indicates property taxes will remain flat, an overall sales tax increase of 6 percent and city revenue from the controversial electronic billboards could be as high as $75,000 when they?re install on Interstate 80 and Highway 65 later this year. Horst blamed persistent unemployment, soaring pension and health care costs, dwindling property values and cutbacks by the state and federal governments. ?The magnitude and depth of the problem is, at times, daunting,? Horst wrote the council. ?Yet Rocklin has proved to be up to the challenge as we continue to make tough choices and innovatively rethink the way we do business.? For example, last year the city eliminated summer swim lessons because the cost was draining the general fund. The city had subsidized the unsustainable program while increasing class sizes for its preschool program because it was making money for the city. Horst indicated staff tamed the proposed budget deficit by not only cuts and reorganization, but also by focusing on reprioritizing existing expenditures, using technology advances and making maintenance budgets sacrosanct. Rocklin council member Scott Yuill thanked city staff and Horst for coming up with a balanced budget that was ?no easy task.? ?Everyone has demonstrated the Team Rocklin spirit,? Yuill said. Mayor Brett Storey said the budget ?keeps a balance of meaningful work for each department and protects the citizens.? He commended the city staff for keeping the budget from going in the red. ?The city of Rocklin is beginning to see some daylight in managing through these difficult economic times and our employees have continued to work harder while accepting more of their share of costs.? Since 2007 the city has reduced its workforce by 77 full time employees. With attrition, early retirements and layoffs, the city now employees about 224 full time employees, according to city documents. Employees have taken pay cuts and unions are currently negotiating pension reform that will reduce benefits for new hires. Horst expects the budget will see a reduction in overall personnel costs of $650,000 this year. Even with the rosy outlook Horst indicated it?s not time to start raising staff levels. ?Reducing compensation/benefits for current employees can be very difficult, time consuming, emotional and sometimes unsuccessful,? Horst explained. Right now, 66.25 percent of the city?s total budget is used for compensation that includes salary and benefits. ?Implementing compensation changes for future employees who are not yet hired is far less challenging,? Horst said. Horst commended city staff for making sacrifices and finding improvements, but warned the city still may face challenges in this recovering economy. ?Although the downturn appears to be at an end, the rate of economic growth has been slow and sporadic at best,? Horst said. ?On the whole, the City of Rocklin will need to fend for ourselves. The only help we can expect is the help we generate for ourselves.? City Council members are expected to review the new budget at hearings starting May 29.