Folsom approves leaner budget, 55 positions on chopping block

By: Don Chaddock, The Telegraph
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The Folsom City Council voted unanimously to accept a new leaner 18-month budget at their meeting Tuesday at 11 p.m. Council chambers overflowed with about 150 persons while another 30 or more waited in the hall outside for the public hearing on the budget. City Manager Kerry Miller noted the large turnout. “This is probably ten times the number that showed up when we adopted our last budget in June,” Miller said. Mayor Steve Miklos said the budget the council adopted last year wasn’t valid in the current economic climate so city staff was directed to craft a new budget. Miller said the economic situation is “dire.” “We simply aren’t able to fund as much as we have in the past,” Miller said. “There have been no sacred cows in this process.” Before taking the vote, Miklos thanked the public for turning out to voice their opinions and suggest solutions. “What I tell people is the money is not there. Help us get the money in here,” Miklos said. “I’ve made a challenge out here this evening to go out and get some sponsors.” Assistant City Manager Evert Palmer and Finance Director Jim Francis gave a quick recap of the budget proposal prior to opening public comment. “What we’re talking about is reductions -- cuts, cuts, cuts,” Palmer said. “This budget is designed to maintain quality of life.” Francis said the budget includes expenditure reductions and using more than $4 million in reserves to help make up an $8.6 million deficit. Vice Mayor Jeff Starsky balked at dipping that deep into reserves. “I’m uncomfortable pulling that amount out of reserves,” Starsky said. “Is that because we only have five (budgetary) months, or less?” Francis said the move was due to the short time frame. Starsky also took issue with the sales tax figures on which Francis was basing his revenue expectations. “My concern is that you’re not taking a conservative enough approach to the (revenues),” he said. “(Our) sales tax consultant predicts we will come in $2 million less. What we would be approving tonight won’t be enough.” Starsky questioned the budget saying the cuts probably wouldn’t be enough if the sales tax predictions came true. “(Managers) must cut deeper than you think you have to,” he said. “I think we’re going to miss the mark. All indications are (over) the next six months, the economy will be worse than today and I think it sucks today.” He cautioned city staff to be prepared for a worsening economy. “Be sure we are prepared for that worse case scenario,” Starsky said. One of the cuts includes pulling an engine company out of one of the fire stations and rotating it as a “back-fill” for overtime coverage throughout the other city fire stations. “I do not support cutting that (fire) engine company,” Starsky said. “What were the options we were discussing if we kept that engine company?” Palmer said to save the engine company would mean closing the library and zoo. Fire Capt. Frank Morino said while they support Chief Dan Haverty, they believe the “brown out” of a fire engine company was in the best interest of public safety. “(This move) will add 45 seconds or more to response with this plan,” Morino said. “We had three separate calls tonight just during the city council meeting.” Morino said the national average response time is five minutes on 90 percent of the calls and Folsom was shooting for six minutes. “Folsom is 46 percent of the time in six minutes,” he said. “We’re not even hitting six minutes.” Molly Zandergrift, a teen volunteer at Folsom Zoo, asked the council to reconsider cutting the education program at the zoo. “I’ve worked over 1,200 hours as a volunteer’s in the zoo’s education program,” she said. “I wish you would recognize all the support people are giving.” She said she’d be willing to help raise funds to maintain the zoo’s education program. Mark Powers, a third-grader, asked the city to keep funding for the zoo’s camps. “I learned so much going to zoo camp,” he said. “I look forward to going again this summer.” Tasha Ozinski asked the city to keep the zoo’s funding intact. “Eliminating programs at the zoo would be a huge mistake,” she said. “I think education is one of the most important keys to success.” One resident expressed concern over the cuts to be made at the police department. “You say you’re not cutting cops, but you’re not filling eight positions,” Cal Worsham said. “I pray it’s none of our families affected. Response times will be impacted.” Worsham suggested that maybe the top level city management should see some cuts. “On this budget, we’re attacking police and fire,” Worsham said. “In sports, if a team doesn’t do well, the coach is gone.” Miklos said the budget was a framework that could be adjusted if needed at a later date. “This is a fluid decision, we have to start somewhere,” Miklos said. Other speakers asked to keep the citizen advisory committees, such as the Historic District Commission, to keep public input available. “You’re not using resources you have,” Gail Kipp said. “You don’t have to do everything yourself.” John Hettinger said it would be foolish to abolish the Historic Commission. “Citizen voices should be the last things to be cut, not the first,” Hettinger said. Diane Yates urged the city council to keep its volunteer commissions. “Volunteers are the very resource we need to recognize and utilize more fully to get us through this,” Yates said. “We’re all in this together.” City Councilwoman Kerri Howell said she was eager to find ways to keep programs, but was willing to adopt the budget as proposed. “I’m completely sympathetic with just about all of the comments made tonight,” City Councilwoman Kerri Howell said. “We may be looking at really serious cuts six months from now.” Starsky agreed, saying he believed the city would be back in the same boat soon because the cuts weren’t deep enough and revenues would be less than anticipated. “I believe in June we’re going to be looking at another $1.5 to $2 million less,” Starsky said. “These are the easy decisions, the hard ones are coming. They will be, ‘Will the sports complexes stay open? Will the zoo stay open? Will the library stay open?’” Miklos, Starsky and Howell agreed they needed to consider options to keep public safety fully funded. “I want to still dig and dig and dig to preserve that engine (at station 35),” Miklos said. City Councilman Andy Morin said the cuts hit every department and he was concerned that too much emphasis was being put on police and fire. “We can’t let our police or fire take over the budget,” Morin said. “Every department is down by 10 percent, some by 20 percent. No one is escaping this.” City Councilman Ernie Sheldon was absent due to surgery. The budget includes eliminating 55 positions, 39 of which are currently staffed.