City avoids service cuts in latest budget

DOWNEY - The City Council later this month is expected to approve a $143.6 million spending plan that includes no reductions in city programs or services but permanently eliminates 34 budgeted and/or unoccupied jobs.A deficit of $1.7 million will be plugged using the city's reserves, which are projected at $28.7 million after the next fiscal year. Council members quizzed department heads during a 4-hour budget session Tuesday, during which department leaders explained their efforts to reduce costs and increase efficiency. The council made few modifications to the budget proposal. The most notable edit was Mayor Luis Marquez's request to reduce the salary of an emergency preparedness position budgeted at $105,000 annually, not including benefits. The position, originally created three years ago during the city's water scare, was pulled from the budget and will probably be added later at a reduced salary. Former fire chief Mark Sauter currently oversees the city's emergency preparation efforts as a contract employee but he is scheduled to retire in December. Overall, administrators sounded cautiously optimistic about the city's finances going forward. Sales tax revenues are expected to increase 19.8% this coming fiscal year, attributable at least partly to a "change in spending habits." A scheduled water rate increase later this year is expected to boost water utility funds 31.2%. Most other revenue sources, however, are forecasted to decrease. City officials estimate a 5.3% drop in property tax revenue, and slight dips in licenses and permits, interest and rents, property transfer taxes, and golf course revenues. The city's share of federal Community Development Block Grants, used primarily in Downey to support local non-profits, is estimated to decline 16.4%. City administrators have countered the down economy by maintaining a hiring freeze and "doing more with less," city manager Gerald Caton said. Thirty-four previously frozen city jobs - 7% of the city's workforce - are scheduled to be eliminated. Another eight positions will be left unfilled. "It's very tight this year...but our department heads have been extremely creative to keep our programs in these dire fiscal times," said Caton, who will retire in December after 22 years as city manager. Council members limited their requests for additional budget considerations. Councilman Fernando Vasquez requested an art walk be budgeted for next year and was told a plan is already in the works, while Councilman Mario Guerra lobbied police chief Rick Esteves for the installation of video cameras in public parks. Esteves said he was carefully guarding the police department's asset forfeiture funds due to possible expenses down the road. Guerra also requested the police and fire departments take steps to lower overtime pay. The departments expect to pay a combined $3 million in overtime wages during the next fiscal year. The City Council is expected to formally adopt the budget after a public hearing June 28.

********** Published: June 9, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 8