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State tax grab puts city in tight spot

By: Jon Brines, Special to The Placer Herald
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Rocklin’s financial outlook is grim. The Rocklin City Council took a break from regular city business to concentrate on the city’s embattled finances while at a retreat at William Jessup University earlier this month. “The city’s revenues continue to decline,” said City Manager Carlos Urrutia. The city is now facing another potential tax revenue drain as the Schwarzenegger administration has proposed to take $921,000 from the city’s share of state gas taxes, which would wipeout the city’s street maintenance budget, according to city documents. The governor has also threatened to borrow about $1.5 million of the city’s property tax revenues to offset the state’s deficit. “If the state dips into our funds further, the council directed the staff to look at every city function and program again for possible cuts,” said Rocklin Mayor Peter Hill. “The council indicated that everything is on the table, although we will have to honor any contracts or agreements we have made.” The city’ partner in the fight against the state on this issue, the League of California Cities is holding a conference in San Jose in September but none of the city’s leadership will be able to go to lobby their case, according to Urrutia. “We’re not going to the conference,” said Urrutia. “We’ve cut all travel.” The city attorney will however, be coordinating litigation with the league against the state on the grounds that the tax grab is illegal under the state constitution, according to city documents. Costly litigation is disappointing to city leadership as the city has been mobilized for cost-cutting measures including allowing city employees to recommend cuts and reorganization ideas. “We’ve tried to surgically remove expenses to minimize a noticeable impact to our citizens,” Urrutia said. “Now that’s not going to be enough. It is time to prioritize what it is that we do and what it is we can do without.” The Rocklin fire and police unions have agreed to take a salary freeze until 2011, the city’s work force has been cut down by 13 percent and 15 employees are taking early retirement. That includes the police chief, city manager and the assistant city manager who will stay on as contract employees for about a year, Urrutia said. “We’ll work less than full time with no benefits,” Urrutia said. “We all have an expertise that is needed in the city right now. If it helps the city, I’m not leaving in a fiscal crisis.”