Axe To Fall
Deep cuts proposed in Monterey.
Thursday, April 24, 2003
There may be no fireworks in Monterey this Fourth of July. Between now and then, the city might reduce its workforce by more than 50. Fees for various city services could go way up.
These projections are all contained in a report for a special study session scheduled for Wednesday, April 23. The report''s author, City Manager Fred Meurer, has reached for the machete and proposed cuts to fix an expected $5 million budget imbalance in the fiscal year 2004-05.
A major part of the plan calls for eliminating 56 positions from the municipal staff. Of the 46 full-time positions that are up for elimination, half are already vacant and just won''t be filled.
These cuts follow adjustments last year to cover shortfalls in revenue and increased costs following flush years in the late 1990s. The current budget is $41 million.
According to the report from Meurer submitted to the council, larger forces are hurting the municipal budget: "The economy has not improved and some of our major revenue sources, particularly transient occupancy tax, continue to decline."
In the suggested cuts, Meurer proposes reducing the fire chief and the city attorney to part-time positions, eliminating the Military Affairs Coordinator, the Streets and Utilities Manager, the Cultural/Historical Facilities manager, and others.
In addition to spending cuts, fee increases are also suggested. Among them are a possible booking charge for those convicted of a crime in Monterey, higher fees at the Sports Center and Veterans'' Park, and increased slip fees for visitor boats at the municipal marina.
The report discourages the purchase of a new bookmobile for the library--at $200,000 to $275,000.
The fireworks might be cancelled not so much because of the $130,000 cost, but because of "public safety concerns" at the event due to staff cutbacks. The entire police force and many other city employees work that night because of large visiting crowds, and the report says staff shortages might be a reason not to host the event.
Police Chief Carlo Cudio says that the overall effect on the police force will not be heavy because it is unfilled positions that would be cut.
One new angle that might offset cuts is a charge on those booked into the city jail who are later convicted. As it is now, DUI convictions result in a charge that comes back from the court to Monterey for booking costs incurred at the city. Under what would be a new policy, those convicted of other crimes might also face fees of a few hundred dollars.
"We''re investigating that and it looks like a worthwhile effort," Cudio says.
Along with a potential hiatus for the Independence Day show, city-sponsored arts and historic events could also be cut back.
With operational cuts expected, capital projects such as the new city hall (or public service center) have not been abandoned. Design alternatives are under review. Some $13 million has been set aside for the project.
Despite the fact that staff cutbacks alleviate somewhat the need for more spacious offices a new city hall would provide, public facilities manager Carl Anderson says that current economic conditions make for a good time to build, with lower construction costs and lower interest rates.
Also not dead is the city''s interest in buying the historic yet decrepit State Theater on Alvarado and converting it to a conference center annex. A city-funded study found that using it at least partially for extra conference space is feasible. However, dual use as a performing arts center is still Plan A.
"It''s certainly not going to be the city going ahead alone," Anderson says.
The council votes on the cuts at its May 20 meeting.