City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

April 26, 2012
More than 100 public safety workers laid off in Sacramento budget plan

The city of Sacramento is proposing to lay off roughly 62 firefighters and 45 police personnel to address a budget situation that is among the most dire the city has ever faced.

The public safety layoffs are part of a plan to address a $15.7 million deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1 in the city's general fund, the portion of the budget that pays for most basic services. The cuts also include hits to parks maintenance and recreation programs.

"This is not the budget I had hoped to recommend to address next year's structural deficit," City Manager John Shirey said.

Shirey said he is attempting to work with the city's labor unions "to find solutions that would avoid the need for the elimination of positions and consequently programs and services to our community."

The focus of that effort is likely to be pension benefits. If unions agree to have their employees contribute the entire employee share of their CalPERS benefits, officials said the city could avoid layoffs.

The city picks up most or all of the employee share - in addition to an employer share - for nearly all city workers. Doing away with that arrangement would save the city $13.5 million this year, budget officials said.

Some unions have expressed interest in agreeing to pick up the entire employee share.

The firefighter union appears willing to sit down with the city.

"We've made it clear that we're always willing to sit down and talk about how we can help the citizens of the city and what is the right thing to do," fire union spokesman Todd Filbrun told me. "Obviously how we move forward is going to take some time to process and formulate."

The police union said it is engaged in "off the record" conversations with city budget officials and would continue those talks.

"We are willing to sit and listen to any conversation that the city wants to have," said the union's acting president, Dustin Smith.

The proposed hits to public safety are the worst the city has seen, even after the City Council voted to lay off dozens of cops last year.

The firefighter layoffs would require the department to decrease the number of personnel on most rigs, from four to three. The fire union has argued that change would increase the time it would take for fire units to begin tackling emergencies.

The city has addressed cumulative deficits of $219 million since 2007, cutting about 1,200 positions - not all through layoffs - and slashing many services.

Falling sales and property tax revenue has played a big role in the cycle. Property tax collections are down $24.3 million since 2009 and sales tax coffers are down $8.7 million since 2007.

The cycle is expected to continue at least another year; budget officials project a deficit of $7.4 million next year.

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About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at rlillis@sacbee.com

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