S teve Furtado, president of Salinas Firefighters Association Local 1270, like all city union members, faces a tough choice: make a two-year, 10 percent cut or see colleagues laid off. “It’s a pretty heavy weight that’s sitting on all our union members’ shoulders,” he says. Furtado says some firefighters may be able to retire early to achieve the salary savings in the hopes that six new recruits won’t lose their jobs.
“We are exploring all alternatives,” he says. “We do not want to see layoffs. We do not want to cut essential services.”
City officials are counting on employee furloughs and frozen wages to offset a growing budget deficit and avoid 100 layoffs. The city projects a $12.6 million deficit next fiscal year due to drops in sales tax, Measure V funds, property taxes and building fees. The shortfall is a dreary reminder of the city’s last budget mess, when the city eliminated 123 positions and closed the libraries.
“If, for example, we were able to get no employee concessions, we are at the same level,” Finance Director Tom Kever says. “We are going to end up having to eliminate over 120 positions, 23 of them vacant, and more than 100 layoffs.”
The city plans to first freeze 23 vacant positions, trim paramedic funding, reduce temporary staff and close City Hall and the Permit Center every Friday. But the brunt of the financial burden falls on city employees.
Koni Dearman, co-president of the Salinas Municipal Employees Association, says her members don’t have a problem with the furloughs, which will likely come in the form of four nine-hour shifts a week.
“People realize that the government and state of affairs aren’t good, and I think our members are willing to step to the plate,” she says, adding that she wishes the city would have been more up-front about the fact that employees would also be asked to give up raises over the next two years. “We got told at the last minute, and then it’s on the news everywhere,” she says.
Chris Swinscoe, president of the Salinas Police Officers Association, says it’s too early for members to respond to the 10 percent pay cut.
“It’s all speculation to how the members could respond to it,” he says.
City officials also wants to eliminate seven community service officers from the police budget next fiscal year. Swinscoe says this would result in longer waits for residents requesting non-emergency assistance. “If you take those [community service officers] away, you are dumping that work on the patrol officers where they are already having a hard time responding to calls.”
The city’s libraries, which have rebounded from skeletal services are looking at reductions in the materials and training budgets. Kever says shortening library hours is not on the table– yet.
The City Council will vote on the first round of budget cuts Feb. 24. By March the city wants to have concession agreements in place with all the employee unions– just in case more cuts are necessary.