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Council intends to make major public safety cuts

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The Sacramento City Council’s tentative decision Tuesday night to make severe budget cuts to public safety is not final, but it made a big statement.

Council members voted 6-3 to say they intend to make budget cuts later this month that include layoffs of 82 sworn cops and increases in brownouts or alternating closures for fire services.

A big caveat to the tentative decision is the council’s statement that it is still open to further negotiations with the city’s public safety unions.

Tuesday’s hearing drew intense public interest. Many people arrived more than an hour early to the 6 p.m. meeting. Shortly before 5 p.m., about 70 people waited in line for the doors at City Hall to open.

About 340 people were at City Hall around 6:15 p.m. The 230 seats inside the City Council’s chambers were filled, and another 110 people were outside, in the lobby and in a second-floor overflow area.

A City Hall police security officer estimated at 7 p.m. there were 400-450 people at City Hall.

City leaders are facing a $39 million deficit for the 2011/2012 fiscal year. The City Council is expected to approve a budget June 21.

Council members Jay Schenirer, Sandy Sheedy, Rob Fong, Kevin McCarty, Darrell Fong and Bonnie Pannell voted to say they intend to make public safety cuts, among other reductions, though they may still negotiate with unions for changes to the cuts. 

Council members Angelique Ashby and Steve Cohn and Mayor Kevin Johnson voted against the tentative decision.

Schenirer proposed the tentative decision, stating that cuts to public safety were necessary in order for the city to get on a fiscally responsible track.

“The right thing happens to be the more difficult thing this year, unfortunately,” he said.

The proposal includes $12.2 million in cuts to the Police Department and $9 million in cuts to the Fire Department.

The suggested cuts include layoffs of 82 sworn cops in the Police Department and 68 civilian personnel, according to updated statistics provided Tuesday night by Sgt. Norm Leong, police department spokesman.

The department could restore 35 staff if it obtains a waiver on a federal grant, according to city officials.

“I just can’t, in good conscience, support a budget where we’re going to cut $12 million from police,” Johnson said.

In addition to its tentative decision, the council made a final decision Tuesday night to approve a federal grant for the Sacramento Fire Department. The funding from the federal government comes from the federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant Program.

The six council members also said they intend to make fire cuts that would raise the number of alternating closures, or “brownouts,” of fire services from two to four. Without the grant, the city would be weighing whether to make six brownouts.

The city manager’s office is not proposing layoffs for the Fire Department.

As part of the 6-3 vote, the council also said it intends to keep 11 community centers open without setting aside any money for them through the Department of Parks and Recreation. It’s unclear how that can be accomplished. Schenirer suggested that neighborhoods could help keep the centers open.

Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. 

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