Things to come

Things to come

Council could impose layoffs, increase parking fines, cut services and hike fees by spring

By André Coleman , Kevin Uhrich 12/29/2011

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Pasadena officials met in a hastily called early-morning session the day after the Thanksgiving weekend to discuss ways to weather an $8.3-million budget shortfall, with some of the suggestions being layoffs, an increase in traffic fines, higher permitting fees and service reductions.
 
At that time, all of those proposals and a number of others aimed at closing the city’s budget gap heading into the New Year were shelved. But in light of the damages caused by a devastating windstorm that slammed the city three weeks ago, Pasadena officials are now saying they may have to reconsider making potentially devastating budget cuts if the economy does not improve.
 
One of those shelved recommendations would increase parking fines by $20, costing drivers about $57 per violation. Pasadena processes 3,082 parking tickets a month — about 103 tickets a day — and increasing the fines would allow the city’s cut to bring in an additional $350,000 a year, according to city documents.
 
Other recommendations include eliminating after-school programs and reducing youth violence prevention services.
 
“As far as I am concerned, everything is on the table. We have an existing deficit, which will be exacerbated by wind cleanup,” said Councilwoman Margaret McAustin, referring to the hurricane-force winds that whipped through Pasadena late Nov. 30 and early Dec. 1. The storms caused an estimated $23 million in damage, much of which will eventually be reimbursed by FEMA. “We have 
to look at everything to get our budget balanced. The City Council agreed to increase the transfer from the utility, which 
is permitted, but we have to recognize there is a cost to that. We can’t continue to use the utility as a piggy bank.” 
 
At its Nov. 28 meeting, the council voted to increase the annual transfer from the city Light and Power Fund to the General Fund by 2 percent, up from 12 percent, taking the total budget supplement from $12,688,000 to $15,860,515.
 
A government watchdog alleged the city had broken the state’s open meeting law by not posting the agenda for that meeting until 9 p.m. Nov. 23, the night before City Hall closed for the four-day Thanksgiving holiday. The agenda must be posted 72 hours before a public meeting “at a location accessible to the public,” according to the statute. It was first believed that that agenda was not posted outside city offices, but both City Clerk Mark Jomsky and city Public Information Officer Ann Erdman said the agenda for the Nov. 28 meeting was posted the previous Wednesday night outside of Council Chambers and in the entrance to City Hall. The agenda is also electronically sent to various news agencies, many of which were closed or short-staffed over the long weekend. 
 
During that meeting, council members approved some reorganization measures and struck down proposals that would have led to eight layoffs and brought the total number of city layoffs since 2009 to 294. The proposed layoffs were in the Finance, Fire, Police, Housing, Human Services, Planning, Public Works and Transportation departments.
 
The council also voted down a proposal that would have decimated the city’s local hiring program, which has been fighting to get locals jobs on the $152-million Rose Bowl renovation project.
 
In the end, the council decided to reorganize some city programs, including tree trimming schedules, and implement a 25 percent General Plan maintenance and implementation fee on all building permits. It also reduced stipends for the Summer Rose program from $1,200 to $600. These three changes are expected to save the city $248,000 a year.
 
The city will also eliminate paper payroll checks, which will require all employees to enroll in direct deposit — a move that is expected to save an additional $31,000 every year — and defund vacant positions, including five in the Police Department. 
 
“When we were going through it, some things felt unnecessary and would hurt people. It’s not complete yet, but we are trying to be thoughtful,” said Councilman Gene Masuda. “We have cut so much already, and to do an additional $4 million is difficult. If it keeps going down and we keep losing revenue, we are going to have to cut wherever it is necessary,” Masuda said. 
 
“We cannot spend more money than we bring in. that is not a way to run our city. You can’t just keep borrowing from the rainy day fund. At some point, you have to solve the problem,” Masuda said.
 
The city is looking at other ways to help solve its financial problems. Officials will study soliciting advertising on city ARTS buses and contracting programs with the Pasadena Unified School District, a move that could save both agencies an undetermined amount of money.
 
“I wouldn’t be surprised if those items that were considered but not recommended appeared in front of us again this spring when we begin the 2012-13 budget process,” said Councilwoman Jacque Robinson.
 
Under the budget deal reached this summer by Gov. Jerry Brown and Democrats in the Legislature, the state would face up to $980 million 
in cuts, beginning next year in a number of public services, such as libraries.
 
Although Pasadena’s sales tax base tax is doing well, it is being driven largely by big-box retail and auto sales. Auto dealers have been leaving Pasadena over the past decade, with 11 dealerships pulling up stakes for auto malls in neighboring cities, such as Monrovia and Glendale.
 
“As we go forward preparing next year’s budget, if we still need to make cuts and we don’t identify them, it is possible some of the things may come back when we submit the budget,” Assistant City Manager Steve Mermell said.

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