12/5/07

SEIU takes dues hit as town eliminates vacant positions

With the Chula Vista (CA) city payroll growing faster than its tax revenues, the City Council on Tuesday night voted to reduce spending by $15.5 million to prevent the city from draining its reserves.

The number of city employees is being reduced from 1,244 to 1,132 through layoffs, the elimination of vacant positions and an early-retirement incentive.

The staffing cuts will translate into dirtier parks and city facilities; reductions in library hours; delays in filling potholes, paving streets and removing graffiti; and longer 911 police response times.

At the request of City Manager David Garcia, the council agreed to outsource fire dispatch after being assured the change wouldn't result in fire response delays. Other reductions will have little or no public impact, such as the consolidation of several city departments that handle planning, development and maintenance.

“It's an arduous task, a painful one, and one that none of us wants to do,” said Councilman Jerry Rindone. “But if we don't do this ... it will only get worse.” At Rindone's suggestion, the council reduced cuts to the graffiti removal program.

Other council members wanted to spare other programs, but Mayor Cheryl Cox urged them to “allow our city manager to take the role we have assigned him.”

The budget reductions approved Tuesday night represent 5 percent of the city's annual budget. The council discussed the proposal at two public workshops in September and October.

Representatives of one employee union, the SEIU Local 221, picketed before the council's vote to protest the 25 layoffs. In public comments before the vote, a dozen employees criticized the staffing cuts.

Terry Strauwald, a senior electrician, said, “We serve the public. If we're not here, no one's serving anybody.”

The city's financial problems stem from its overly optimistic revenue projections. Sales tax income, franchise fees from the South Bay Power Plant and building permit fees this year were lower than expected.

Also Tuesday, Cox and the Chamber of Commerce urged residents to do their holiday shopping in Chula Vista. Sales tax revenue makes up nearly a quarter of the city's general fund.

“Many people don't realize that by buying locally, they're contributing to sales tax revenues, which help fund our libraries, recreation centers, fire and police protection and street paving,” Cox said at a news conference at the Otay Ranch Town Center, the city's newest shopping mall.

Chula Vista collects $113 in sales tax revenue per capita annually. Its neighbor, National City, collects $240. The countywide average is $139.

(signonsandiego.com)

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