City budget

Wholesale cuts sidestepped for now

Deferring the most controversial decision it faced, Chico’s Finance Committee declined to make a recommendation on across-the-board budget cuts but backed other proposals at Tuesday morning’s meeting in City Council Chambers.

The three councilmembers on the panel—Mary Flynn, Scott Gruendl and Larry Wahl—unanimously supported annual transfers of $500,000 from the Private Development Fund to the General Fund through fiscal year 2015-16.

On 2-1 votes, with Wahl dissenting, the committee recommended shifting $17.6 million in capital projects to the 2005 Tax Allocation Bond Fund and negotiating with employee bargaining units regarding cost-of-living raises (COLA).

The committee members regained unanimity on the final two items, in that all three decided not to make recommendations on a package of five measures to balance the General Fund or on a uniform reduction of each department’s funding.

City Manager Dave Burkland had charged each department head to present a plan for cutting operating expenses by 7.5 percent with the lightest impact possible on services. Public safety, the top priority expressed by residents in a city survey, represents 80 percent of expenditures, so police ($1.6 million) and fire ($1 million) needed to make the largest cuts.

The plan from Police Chief Bruce Hagerty and Captains Mike Maloney and John Rucker would cost the department 14 full-time officers and one part-timer, requiring a redeployment scaling back on services such as traffic enforcement and extra downtown patrols. Interim Fire Chief Keith Carter proposed cutting overtime used for “backfilling” firefighters on vacation or sick leave by reducing the daily staffing minimum from 22 to 20.

After hearing the presentations, the committee members decided that their colleagues should have a chance to weigh in, with the benefit of additional information requested from city staff.

“I think we made tremendous progress,” Gruendl said afterward. “The committee agreed that across-the-board cuts are not the way to go.”

Noted Flynn, a Chico High math teacher: “Seven-point-five percent is very neat, very tight, but also very artificial. Different departments have different responsibilities. As the conversation progressed, it was suggested that there are other options.”

Moreover, any changes in COLA would affect departments’ salary budgets. “This is a complex problem,” Flynn added, “and I don’t think a simple answer will solve it.”

The committee is scheduled to meet today (April 24) at 3:30 p.m. for deliberations on funding community organizations.