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West Sacramento City Council discusses public safety cuts

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More than 300 West Sacramento residents rallied in support of public safety at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. Cuts were made, but police and fire were spared at least until June 2.

With the City Council chamber full and 150 seats filled in the downstairs galleria, many were left standing to hear the latest in budget cuts. West Sacramento council meetings typically see around 60 participants.

The crowd met to voice opinions and band together in support against the proposed cuts, most notably the West Sacramento Fire Department’s loss of one engine and the police department’s loss of five employees.

In anticipation of cuts firefighters were out holding signs Monday night that said, "Save YOUR engine." Local firefighters and community members fear the loss of the single fire engine could mean a substantial decrease in response time.

Of the 40 speakers, consisting of fire and police department employees, union representatives and residents, the theme throughout the night remained clear: The City Council should not make hasty decisions. West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said the meeting was the first time he and City Council had reviewed the proposed budget cuts, which totaled about $1.5 million.

Cabaldon described the current state as "the worst budget ever for the city. We’ve made all the hard decisions. Now we’re at the impossible ones." Cabaldon pointed to the city’s loss of $10 million to the state of California as largely responsible for the deficit.

About halfway through the scheduled speakers, the mayor and police threatened to close the session to residents, as many people ignored the strict "no response" rules to clapping.

"Even if all 140 (proposed cuts) were approved, there would still be more to do," Cabaldon said. "But just because it passes doesn’t mean it can’t continuously be evaluated."

City Manager Toby Ross pointed out that each resolution was made in collaboration with employees, department heads and union representatives. However, no specifics regarding who and which positions would be cut were originally discussed. "(Recommendations are made) not because we like them, but because we have to," Ross said.

The issue of using the city’s reserves was brought in to question as an option as well. Currently, the city policy states 20 percent of funds must remain in reserves. The current reserves lie between 15 and 20 percent.

"If this was a one-year problem, we could use the reserves as a stop-gap," Cabaldon said, "but using reserves as a long-term solution is too risky." He added that increased furloughs also were not a viable source of a long-term solution.

City Councilman William Kristoff, a councilman for 20 years, said this was the most difficult decision he has ever had to make. "The scary part for me is I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, I can’t find the end," he said.

Of the $1.5 million suggested cuts, all except the fire and police department’s portions were approved. Cabaldon and the City Council will revisit the advised reductions at the June 2 City Council meeting. In the meantime, City Manager Toby Ross will attempt to find the $1 million elsewhere. As for the approved savings, areas affected will include: highest city officials including the city manager taking an additional two furlough days per year, now up to 10, and recreation fees from sports to aquatics, recreation center passes to community group facility use will rise.

For more information on upcoming City Council meetings or a recap of Wednesday night’s meeting, visit the city of West Sacramento website.

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