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The City Council passed its final budget Tuesday night by a vote of 8-1 on the heels of an unexpected announcement by City Manager John Shirey that tentative agreements had been reached with three city unions.
The agreements with Stationary Engineers International Union Local 39, Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522 and Sacramento City Exempt Employee’s Association could reduce the city’s budget gap by nearly $8 million and prevent more than 100 layoffs.
The details of the agreements have not been released, but the main issue in contention between the city and the unions is the amount of money employees contribute toward their retirement funds, and it's likely the agreement has increased what the union members will be required to pay.
The final city budget includes $15.7 million in cuts, eliminates 285 of the city’s 4,077 staff positions and includes a budget amendment requiring labor unions to bring formal concession agreements to the City Manager by June 30 or accept layoffs.
That became the sticking point for Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who said she thought the move was too hasty because it would prevent council members from participating in continued negotiations.
“I don’t like this strategy,” Ashby said before the vote. “I don’t like taking the council out of the game.”
Councilman Rob Fong wanted to move forward with the budget vote, he said, because the city manager, city staff and council members had done all they could.
“We already have a very tough and challenging economic environment, and we need to work together,” Fong said.
The city budget process was not as volatile this year as in previous years, when hundreds of residents attended each budget hearing to voice their concerns, but it did draw a small but passionate crowd of community members who made their cases for the programs most important to them.
Some decisions were left up in the air as the final budget vote was taken.
YET TO BE DETERMINED
Deferred layoffs: An amendment to the budget lets the city manager defer layoffs until July 31 for unions working to get the tentative labor agreements ratified by their memberships. So far, three labor unions have tentative agreements – but the Sacramento Police Officers Association is not one of them.
If the firefighters union members approve their tentative agreement with the city, it will prevent the layoff of 44 of the fire department’s 590 employees.
19 of the police department’s 536 officers will be laid off with Tuesday’s budget vote. The officers could get their jobs back if the Sacramento Police Officers Association and the city end up with an agreement that's approved by the union membership – but the two sides have yet to even enter formal negotiations.
Mark Gregersen, the city’s director of labor and workforce strategy, said “off-the-record discussions” have been going on for months between union reps and the city, but have not produced any results.
Craig Powell, president of political watchdog organization Eye on Sacramento, said the group that benefits most from the stalemate are the senior police officers and administrators.
“They get to keep their fat-cat salaries and pensions without paying anything into their retirement,” Powell said Tuesday. “The losers are the junior officers and their families, especially those who lose their jobs.”
But Dustin Smith, acting president for the police union, said he feels the union is making a good-faith effort.
“We’ve given about as much as we can as a department, and I don’t know what really there is that’s left,” Smith said.
Potential sales tax increase: City Council members are considering a sales tax increase to generate revenue, but they have said they will not put the measure on the ballot until labor concessions have been fully explored. The council only has until July 24 to make that happen – and it’s not certain the voters would approve a sales tax increase if the measure were to be on the November ballot.
Even with tentative union agreements, however, the budget approved by the City Council Tuesday has left some clear winners and losers.
The outcome of this year’s budget process could have been harsher for many residents were it not for bold public-private partnership moves and the powerful pleas of the underserved.
Swimmers and sunbathers: The city and the YMCA struck an agreement in May allowing the youth organization to operate the popular Southside Park pool during the summer and to offer swim lessons and aquatic exercise classes for community members.
Another six city pools were saved through the efforts of a city-wide campaign with Save Mart grocery stores that raised $1 million.
3,000 disabled teens and young adults who use the Access Leisure program: More than 30 teens, parents and community leaders spoke out against cuts to Access Leisure, which offers social and recreation opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities, and the council listened.
“It was a moving testimony,” Jim Combs, Department of Parks and Recreation director said Friday. “This has been a longtime program with this department; it serves an underserved population. The council was very sympathetic to that.”
The City Council voted to restore $150,000 of the program's regular $200,000 funding, which brings back most of the program’s offerings, but isn’t quite enough to maintain its popular summer camps.
16,000 low-income utility customers: A new rate assistance program will be introduced to reduce monthly utility bill increases by almost 90 percent for the city’s poorest customers.
The program will cost the city $1.13 million, but Shirey said that will be covered by the tax revenue generated by previously approved utility rate increases.
Homeless families and their advocates: The city’s winter shelter program will get $100,000 for an additional 50-70 motel vouchers for families and disabled people who use the program to keep warm and dry when they need it the most.
“This always comes up in the winter, and winter will definitely come again,” Shirey told the council. “I’m just recommending that we put it in the budget now so we don’t have to put in a mid-year adjustment later, like we did last year.”
Stalled labor negotiations and deep spending cuts left the city’s 4,000 employees with nearly 250 fewer in their ranks and curtailed services for residents. Some of the “losers” from the budget include:
Community art lovers: More than $15,000 in cuts to the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission will result in a reduction of community arts education programs and community outreach.
Homeowners planning renovations and new business owners: $968,000 in cuts and nine staff layoffs in the city’s Community Development Department will slow the planning department application and review process.
History buffs and researchers: $14,000 in cuts and the layoff of a staff member in the Center for Sacramento History will result in slower service and delays in categorizing and providing accessible city records.
Residents: City-dwellers must live another year with reduced city services, increased utility rates and fewer public amenities to enjoy as Sacramento continues to struggle with a tough economy.
In a budget with $15.7 million in cuts, our list of who wins and who loses is by no means all-inclusive. Here is the final budget document in full – let us know what cuts you think will be felt the deepest or where the city made the best moves.
Editor's note: The next of the third paragraph has been clarified.