Candidates for Pasadena City Council seats in Districts 3, 5 and 7 said they believe officials should seek ways to close a projected $3.6 million budget gap without cutting staff or programs.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Terry Tornek issued a dire warning that the budget deficit could force the termination of a still undetermined number of Pasadena’s 2,200 employees, including police officers and firefighters. Personnel makes up more than 70 percent of the city’s budget, Tornek said in his speech.

The city has already recovered $2.1 million in savings by eliminating vacant positions and recovering funds earmarked for overtime in some departments. 

“It might just be them blowing smoke and crying wolf,” said Bryan Witt, 54, who is running in the March 7 election for the District 7 seat currently occupied by incumbent Andy Wilson. Wilson was appointed to the position two years ago after Tornek, the former representative of that district, was elected mayor.

“I think maybe we should call in the state controller to look at the budget,” said Witt, a 45-year resident of Pasadena who serves as operations manager for Amtrak in Los Angeles. “I favor the expansion of programs. Programs should only be cut if they are wasteful.”

So far, Witt has raised $1,000 in contributions from the Pasadena Police Officers Association, according to campaign disclosure statements filed with the City Clerk’s Office.

Witt and eight other candidates for the council are expected to discuss the local economy and issues impacting local businesses at 6:30 p.m. Monday at a candidates’ forum at Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena.

The forum will be moderated by Ishmael Trone, president of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce board of directors, and focus on issues related to the local economy.

“It’s going to be about the local economy, jobs, local development,” Trone told the Pasadena Weekly. “I am sure they are going to touch on all of those subjects. The forum is important because it is extremely important to find out where the candidates’ minds are concerning our economy and local businesses.”

Members of the city’s business community, in particular restaurant owners, felt ignored last year as the council approved an ordinance that raises the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. Since that time, local business owners have been taking a bigger than usual interest in local candidates.

Later that year, the council passed a styrene container ban that could add up to a $20,000 yearly expense for some of the city’s more popular take-out places. Smaller businesses could pay an additional $3,000 a year, according to a staff report by Gabriel Silva, the city’s environmental programs manager. 

Questions will be provided by the Old Pasadena Management District, the Chamber of Commerce, the Playhouse District Association and the South Lake Avenue Business Association.

Audience members in attendance will also have the opportunity to submit questions.

District 7 features some of Pasadena’s trendiest neighborhoods and locations, including the Pasadena Playhouse and Playhouse District, the South Lake Avenue Business District, Caltech and Pasadena City College.

In that race, Wilson faces Witt, securities attorney Phil Hosp, Alejandro Menchacha and small business owner Sheena Tahilramani, who previously served as a media strategist Karl Rove’s chief of staff.

Tahilramani has raised about $5,000, according to financial filings submitted to City Clerk Mark Jomsky’s office. Menchacho has filed no financial disclosure records with City Hall. Hosp has raised nearly $60,000 in individual contributions, and Wilson has raised $69,000, records show.

Hosp said it would take a “hard target” review of the budget to attack the deficit but stressed his main job is serving the people in his district.

“It’s my job to represent residents and certainly reduce bureaucratic delays in city government and work against the things negatively affecting the quality of life in the neighborhood,” Hosp told the Weekly.

Menchacha did not leave a phone number on his nominating papers, and Tahilramani did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Seats in District 3 and District 5 are also up for grabs. In District 3, incumbent Councilman John Kennedy is running unopposed for a second four-year term.

Although both of those districts are largely made up of minority residential neighborhoods, residents in these areas will be impacted the most by cuts to programs.

“These are the people using the health services and city services,” said freelance editor Krystal Lopez Padley, who is squaring off against Ada Morales and District 5 incumbent Councilman Victor Gordo, who is running for a fifth term.

Padley has raised about $17,000. Most of that came from a $5,000 donation from local police reform advocate attorney Dale Gronemeier. Gordo pushed for more police resources in January, shortly after a number of deadly shootings in Northwest Pasadena.

Gordo has raised nearly $30,000, $10,000 of that amount coming in the form of a loan to himself and a $5,000 contribution from the Pasadena Police Officers Association.

Records show Morales has raised no money.

“It’s kind of disappointing there is only one council member under 40,” said Padley, 28, who moved to Pasadena a year and a half ago with her husband Ian and their three sons, Benjamin, 3, Theodore, 2, and 6-month-old Augustine. “It’s time for a new generation to sit at the table. Our families are being pushed out of the city. It’s time for change.”

Padley said she believes the city has to explore more local hiring and moving businesses run from homes to empty storefronts.

“We have to look at local hiring and job training and putting money back into our economy,” she said.

Gordo said that the city can meet its budgetary needs without cutting programs or laying employees off by finding other ways to deliver services. 

“We have already taken $2 million out of the budget and we have to look elsewhere,” Gordo said. “We also should consider reorganizing departments and how we deliver services, and we have to make sure we are collecting 100 percent of the fees we are charging developers to make sure the city is collecting the full costs of all the services we provide.”

According to Gordo, the city saved money by cutting its local health clinic after the Affordable Health Care Act eliminated funding for the city’s prenatal and HIV clinics. In that instance, the city contracted services, eliminated vacant positions and began leasing the clinic space to a county provider, overcoming the need to make $4 million in cuts.

“We no longer incur the cost of operating the clinic. The services are still there and they are still being provided at a high quality,” Gordo said. “We have to be creative.”

Candidates must secure a simple majority of 50 percent plus one vote to secure victory. If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff election will be held between the top two vote getters on April 11.