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Firefighters dispute city’s argument on layoffs; others fear planned cuts

The local firefighters’ union is objecting to city management’s comments about Sacramento’s budget crunch and possible layoffs for fire department staff.

At the same time, the Downtown Sacramento Partnership and Sacramento’s neighborhood services department both expressed concerns Monday about the potential budget cuts being considered by the city.

The proposed 2009/2010 city budget, released Friday, seeks to address a $50 million deficit. The City Council will address the proposed budget at its May 19 meeting.

Among other cuts, the budget proposes to lay off 189 city employees. The budget calls for 387 positions to be slashed. Because 198 of those positions are vacant, the city would need to lay off 189 staffers, according to a city spokeswoman.

Chris Harvey, spokesman for the Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522, said he disagreed with the way the city is framing its argument that firefighters need to give up scheduled pay increases.

The city is arguing that there must be concessions from the union or there will be layoffs.

“That argument is disingenuous,” Harvey said, adding that the city can choose how it spends its general fund monies.

Still, Harvey said that the union’s current negotiations with the city are going well.

Wendy Klock-Johnson, city records manager and acting spokeswoman, responded to Harvey’s criticism. She said Harvey is correct, in the sense that the city does not have a set plan that says it must reduce staff when it is in a difficult financial situation.

The city works very hard to minimize reduction of staff whenever possible, Klock-Johnson said.

Sacramento’s budget document states that the fire department would lose 50 positions and $5 million. Gus Vina, a Sacramento assistant city manager, said last week that if the firefighters’ union gives up scheduled pay increases for firefighters, the city would not need to make the cuts.

Meanwhile, Michael Ault, executive director of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, is concerned that the proposed budget cuts could damage the quality of life downtown.

He raised concerns about possible impacts to downtown parks.

“We need to be careful that we’re not reducing to the extent that we lose the ability to maintain the environment down here,” he said.

The budget proposal is also worrisome to the city’s Neighborhood Services Department. Vincene Jones, the department’s director, said every department is going to have to make hard decisions about its budget.

She said she’s afraid that if her department loses one or two people, it will affect the department’s “personal touch” in its work. Jones noted that the department works with many groups outside of city government, including SMUD, Home Depot, PG&E, and Loaves and Fishes. Neighborhood Services also supports every city department, she said.

Jones said she hopes the community will work with the department, understand the city’s tough financial situation and adjust to the “missing pieces.”

Vina said last week that the city wants all of its unions to make concessions. The sole union at this time that has made concessions is the Sacramento Police Officers Association. The union ceded July salary increases for its members so police department positions would not be cut.

At this point, several other unions have not made concessions.
 

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