Folsom OKs layoffs, sports fee increases in new $64 million budget

By: Don Chaddock, Telegraph Managing Editor
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Folsom parks, zoo and pool boosters turned out in force at the City Council meeting April 17. The $64 million proposed budget was approved, with some modifications, according to city officials. The 4-hour, 20-minute marathon budget hearing sported 25 residents and employees speaking out against the proposed cuts. Some of the biggest issues were a planned $21 youth sports fee increase and layoff of zookeepers at the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary. A pool-closure rumor circulating among swimming enthusiasts resulted in a stack of letters submitted to council members in the few days leading up to the meeting, but as reported in the April 11 issue of the Telegraph, Folsom never discussed closing the Aquatic Center. In fact, Councilman Jeff Starsky praised city staff at the April 10 meeting for coming up with a plan that kept the pool and zoo open. Starsky said he had received numerous suggestions from some in the community advising the pool and zoo be closed. “They bring people to town,” he said at the earlier meeting and reiterated his position during the April 17 meeting. Resident Jennifer Lane took aim at bloated city employee salaries. “I’m for unions too, but there are a lot of top-heavy employees. There are 145 employees making more than $100,000 per year,” she said. “The solution is looking at salaries.” The city manager said the budget has a lot of components. “The budget is a package of solutions … to balance the budget and preserve the 95630 quality of life,” said City Manager Evert Palmer. “There are no better advocates for our programs than our staff.” Ernie Sheldon said the general fund is the problem. “Parks and Rec is almost neutral, but other departments are almost all general fund,” Sheldon said. “Reading every item by item, it seems to be a trend. If you’ve busted your budget year after year, you shouldn’t get an increase. “When you say this budget is fair and equitable, I don’t find that to be true. … We’re going to be back here in January. You can buy your ticket and save your spot … because we’re not attacking the problem, we’re going to be right back here. … If you want a suggestion, I have one. … In light of our serious budget problems, … I believe a significant contributor lies in our compensation. … It was never directly assessed and I believe our problems will continue.” Sheldon also requested scrapping the budget proposal and looking again. “I think we need to take some time and come back again in May,” he said. Councilman Andy Morin said “we need to get the clock running, to address this now.” “As I said last time, Ernie has a lot of very good points,” he said. “The whole issue of employee compensation has been dealt with significantly over the last several years. We’ve worked through the contract process. To just assume we can jump right back in and open these contracts back up (is false).” Morin said everyone talked about the youth sports fees, but there were difficult choices to make that would affect a number of employees losing their jobs. “It is very difficult to fashion this so it feels fair to everyone,” he said. “I responded to every e-mail on this, and there were a lot of them. … In this budget proposal, $5 million is allocated to Parks, $11 million to fire and $16 million to police. … If you go back to the 1970s, there was no Parks and Recreation staff. I believe it was run by the Folsom Athletic Association. … We’re not closing the zoo, the library (or) the aquatic center. … We will figure out a way to do that (run those services).” Starsky said the city has long-term highly efficient employees, such as police officers, who don’t need a lot of training. “In the last five years, we’ve laid off 165 people, but … services didn’t drop off,” Starsky said. “We were socking money away, building that reserve, until 2005 when it was $16 million. We weren’t expecting a (multi-year) recession, but that’s why the money was there. … We have to start these cuts and making changes and capturing as much as we can because … we’re starting again.” Starsky recommended minimizing the youth sports fee increase by half (called “cost recovery”) and, at Morin’s suggestion, supplying the “hardship fund” with extra money. Councilman Steve Miklos said everything needs to be examined. “We (need) to take a hard, serious look at why we’re subsidizing the Folsom Pro Rodeo,” Miklos said. “I hate even saying that but we need to look at everything.” Miklos took issue with residents who suggested the council should micromanage city staff. “We’re not in a fiscal emergency,” he said, knocking down another resident’s suggestion the city impose a crisis mode and slash employee pay. “Is there a spirit of cooperation to see what else we can do, I believe there is. We shared with them in the good times and they’ve been sharing with us during the downturn.” Resident Lisa Davies said it’s easy to say cuts are equitable between departments. “We’re burying cuts by hiding them with (fee) increases,” Davies said. “I beg of you to look at all your departments and not just one. The Parks and Rec department really stands out in this budget.” Linda Montagno, a 15-year Folsom resident, said the city is trying to “balance the budget on the backs of our youth.” “I don’t think it’s a revenue issue, it’s a spending issue,” she said. “I think it’s time for the city council to know it’s not business as usual. If that means cutting 10 percent in the police force, that’s fine. The conversation has always been, ‘Let’s just have the residents pay more for it.’” Allison Atkins, resident, said people choose Folsom for its amenities. “With the cuts we’re talking about in Parks and Rec, with the nine positions being cut, it isn’t equitable to the other departments,” she said. “The things that are important to me are the library, the senior center, the trails and the pool.” The next meeting, to discuss the Capital Improvement Plan, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., April 24, Folsom City Council Chambers, 50 Natoma St., Folsom.