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Folsom hopeful it can save some jobs

Incoming Councilman Ernie Sheldon believes staff will work with city to find solutions
By: Don Chaddock/The Telegraph
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Last week it was announced to Folsom city employees that up to 80 of them could be facing layoffs, but city officials say they are trying to lower that number. “We will be working with the employees to generate options and alternatives,” said Folsom City Manager Kerry Miller. “Hopefully, that will mitigate the need for the number of staff reductions outlined in the ‘worst case’ scenario.” The city is facing a deficit of more than $8 million if the sales tax slump continues and city officials are betting it will. Mayor Eric King said the city has done a lot of preemptive belt-tightening. “We’re at least starting with a stable financial footing,” he said. King is retiring after serving eight years on the city council. Miller told The Telegraph last week that the city is tossing out its budget and starting from scratch. A new budget is expected to be presented to the council in January. “It doesn’t make sense to operate on a budget that no longer reflects fiscal reality,” Miller said. “This will be a new budget with a multi-year approach, running through June 30, 2010.” While it was reported in The Telegraph that the city spent $2 million on Washington, D.C. lobbyists to help secure $84 million in funding for the new bridge, city Finance Director Jim Francis said that’s a good return on the money spent and it was pulled from various sources from city coffers and paid out over five or six years. “That $2 million resulted in $84 million to construct the project,” said Francis. Folsom Lake Crossing, the new $134 million bridge and more than two miles of roadway, is expected to open in spring 2009, according to Miller. Miller said the city is better equipped to deal with the financial downtown than some other municipalities in the region. “We do have a solid general fund reserve balance,” he said. “This verges on an emergency (but) we don’t want to get into a situation where we deplete our reserves.” To meet its obligations, the city is prepared to do just that in a “worst case scenario,” he said. He cited the city’s solid investment portfolio, large employers still in the city that are fiscally stable and the not-so-dismal decline in property values as good omens for Folsom’s economic recovery. “It’s nothing to be proud of, but Folsom hasn’t been hit with the same level of foreclosures as some of our neighbors,” he said. “We’re not seeing record foreclosure rates. … Real estate values have declined, but not as much as (other cities).” The first order of business is to get a new budget to the city council in January and he’s directed all departments to work through the end of the year to come up with ways to balance the budget. “We’re looking to address the issues now,” Miller said. “We’re taking a zero-base approach (with the new budget).” Incoming City Councilman Ernie Sheldon said there are challenges ahead. Sheldon will be sworn in on Monday, Dec. 8. "It's not a great time to jump into a job, when you're facing a deficit," Sheldon said. "But working with deficit budgets is nothing new to me coming from the Parks Department." Sheldon said he hasn't been formally briefed but expects that will happen after he officially takes office. "In my mind, even though I haven’t got a lot of data to look at, every department is on the table," he said. "We have to be proactive (and question expenses), including subsidies to other groups. My biggest concern is oversight. If we’re giving someone some money, we need to look at it." Even with a leaner budget, Miller said there will probably need to be compromises in service and staffing. “There are likely to be reductions in programs and possibly staff reductions,” he said. As reported last week, Miller’s “worst case” scenario puts the number of layoffs between 50 and 80. He said they are working to keep the number low. Sheldon said he believes the city staff will be able to work out some solutions that will hopefully save jobs. "The employees and the city will stand together," Sheldon said. "I know Kerry’s goal to the staff is minimize, if not eliminate, impacts on basic services. If we’re all in this together, every department, including safety, will have to be looked at." The city is also worried about what action the state will take regarding its own budget. “The thing that looms out there is the state,” Miller said. “You just don’t know.” Don Chaddock may be reached at donc@goldcountrymedia.com.