Pointing fingers

Is the city’s budget problem the liberals’ fault?

It’s being suggested by some candidates for the Chico City Council that the council’s liberal majority dithered when the city’s budget problems first became apparent about three years ago.

That’s simply not true. When the late Richard Ek did his award-winning investigation into the city’s finances (“Breaking the bank,” CN&R, March 29, 2007), the council was already addressing the problem. If there was anybody who stalled the process, it was then-City Manager Greg Jones, who refused to make any spending-cuts recommendations himself, instead asking the council to choose among more than 50 alternatives—an impossible task for a group of seven.

Fortunately, Jones soon left town, and Dave Burkland took his place and took charge of the budget. Following his advice, the council quickly began tightening the budget, which gave the city a leg up when the recession hit in late 2008.

If you want to place blame, point a finger at the conservative council majority in the first half of the decade. Because of their generous wage-and-benefits allowances, personnel costs went up 40 percent between 2000 and 2007.

In any event, that’s water under the bridge. Chico is suffering from the same recession the rest of the nation is facing. The question now is how to balance the budget going forward. First, the city’s employee groups have to decide whether to avoid layoffs by taking a 5 percent wage reduction. If they come up short, the council will have to decide where to make personnel cuts.

We urge the employees to stand together to avoid layoffs. We know it’s not easy. But we also know that keeping people working is good for everyone. There will be ample opportunity to negotiate pay hikes when the recession ends.