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Folsom officials look at fee increases, 30 job cuts to balance budget

By: Don Chaddock, Telegraph Managing Editor
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Folsom city officials outlined a budget proposal Tuesday night that eliminated positions from certain departments, increased fees and restructured departments. Overall, nearly 30 positions are on the chopping block, reducing the city's staffing level from 451.3 posts to 422. The highest level was 586 positions in 2008. About 10 of the positions are currently vacant. Currently, the proposed budget includes eliminating two part-time positions from the library, 9.8 positions from the parks department, five police positions, two fire department posts, cutting the assistant city manager position, 3.5 in public works and other support posts. The city's unassigned fund balance, sometimes referred to as the rainy day fund, has gone from a high of $16 million in 2006 to $2.5 million now. "I like the fact you took a different approach that is basically data-driven, and statistical," said City Councilman Steve Miklos. "As I pore through the document, I don't want to eliminate any positions that are revenue neutral. If we can do something in-house that costs us the same or less than (sending it out), it doesn't make sense to cut that position." Miklos said he has "a hard time eliminating community enhancement projects." Jim Francis, the city's finance director, was grilled by a few of the city council members, particularly Ernie Sheldon and Jeff Starsky. "You can nickel and dime people to death," Sheldon said of the proposed increases for sports and entry into city recreational facilities. "(Some) have a misconception that people in this town are rich. ... These people (involved in the sports activities) will step up (through volunteerism and fundraising)." Sheldon's comment was met by applause from audience members. Starsky said the zoo is an asset to the city, drawing people from across the region. "How much do we spend on the zoo, $600,000 of the public's money? A lot of people will tell you to close that zoo, but it draws a lot of people to town," said Starsky. "This (admission) fee increase keeps the zoo alive. The Aquatic Center stays open and isn't closing, like they're doing in Sacramento." One parent wasn't happy with the hit taken by the Parks & Recreation Department. "I am the parent of three sporting kids. ... I hear about 20 actual people being cut and 10 of those are from Parks & Rec, which took a huge cut," said Lisa Davies, president of Folsom Sea Otters. "Another thing to analyze about the budget is efficiencies. To think your city employees are being inefficient, is (wrong). ... Keeping all these kids active and off the streets (is good), (as) idle children are very inefficient for the city." Sheldon took issue with the amount of city employees earning more than $100,000. "We have more than 135 people (in city staff) drawing more than $100,000 in salaries," Sheldon said. "We don't have a (revenue) problem, we have a compensation problem. ... People say we have to be competitive. I don't want to be competitive with Stockton, that's going bankrupt." Starsky cautioned his fellow council members that even with the current budget, there is still another looming deficit quickly approaching. "The scariest number in this budget is what you've already projected for next year's budget, another $2.25 million deficit, without even all this that's happened here tonight," said Starsky. "We will not see a major drop off for the service levels. ... Can we continue to do that? I haven't seen a California city do that yet. That (deficit) next year will be a bigger nut to crack." Another council member said urgency is required. "We need to stop the bleeding for this budget year and balance the budget for next budget year," said Councilman Andy Morin. "We have to understand that delays, and that we just don't have the reserves to buy us that time in the past. ... It's not easy. We've also spoken to employees who are concerned. We've got at least a week and maybe another week. I implore everyone that time is of the essence." Mayor Kerri Howell said it was difficult. "I want staff to look at some of the comments made," Howell said. "As the finance director told us, we have half a month's worth of cash. ... A lot of things have changed. We are in a completely different universe that any of us expected to be in. ... We can't spend money we don't have. ... We don't have a lot of choices. ... We have to behave as a city as we would behave as a private household." Starsky praised city staff for the concessions made. “The thing that will sink the whole state of California is public employee pensions,” said Starsky. “This is the only city that actually dealt with it." The city's budget for fiscal year 2012 is $65.3 million and $64.1 million for fiscal year 2013, according to Francis. The council adjourned at 10:05 p.m. and is scheduled to meet again at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 17. The city's budget will be available at folsom.ca.us by Wednesday morning, according to Francis.