Making the painful cuts

Next Tuesday, Dec. 18, is crunch day for the Chico City Council. That’s when it is scheduled to act on its own Finance Committee’s recommendations for cutting the city budget.

By now just about everyone knows that the city is facing a general-fund shortfall. With some shuffling of accounts, there’s sufficient money to balance the budget for two or three years, but after that the city will start going into the red—big time—without changes to the status-quo M.O.

The Finance Committee has recommended cuts that add up to about $2.1 million annually. Some, like freezing management raises for a year, are easy pickings. But others, such as paying a smaller share of employees’ health insurance costs, involve renegotiating union contracts, which is never easy.

The temptation in these situations is to go after the low-hanging fruit. Cutting the city’s library subsidy, for example, would take only a majority vote. Ditto the many community agencies and artists who receive city grants.

The Finance Committee has rightly recommended that the library funds be left alone. The library is open only 60 hours a week as it is; anything less would be a disaster for a community that supposedly values education and literacy as cornerstones of democracy.

The committee has suggested the council ask the agencies it funds to come forward and explain how they use their money. Fair enough—we expect the council will find that most or all of them provide valuable services at low cost.

And the artists are good for business. They draw visitors to this arts-friendly town and, we would argue, generate far more money than they receive from the city. Artoberfest, for example, is on its way to becoming a major festival of the arts. Now is no time to cut back on this blossoming event.

In any case, councilmembers want to hear from citizens. They respond to body counts. Show up and show your support for the services you think are important.