COMPTON — The City Council has approved an 18% reduction in the city's budget, which will result in about 100 employee layoffs, including all ambulance attendants.
The $92.5-million budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 was approved Tuesday by a 4-1 vote amid warnings that the city must pay the price for past spending mistakes. Mayor Walter R. Tucker voted against the spending package.
There has been "mismanagement and misuse of funds" in recent years, said Councilwoman Patricia Moore, who was elected to the council this spring. "Too many cars, too many (car) telephones, and (spending) didn't get checked. So, here we are and I think the citizens of Compton are standing by us."
Councilman Maxcy Filer, addressing city employees, said: "We on the council know how you feel. . . . We've done the best we possibly could. We didn't arbitrarily cut."
The council agreed to payroll cuts of $4.2 million before a standing-room-only audience of residents and employees, many of them Police and Fire Department officers who are being demoted to balance a budget that is smaller by $20.6 million, or 18%, than last year's budget of $113.2 million.
Council members said about 200 employees have been added to the city budget over the last three years and that the city cannot afford to maintain a payroll that, without the cuts, would have been $41.2 million. With cuts, the payroll will be $36.9 million.
"Some of you have asked, 'Why are you cutting from the bottom?' " Filer said. "And in fact the cutting started from the top."
Three people will be laid off from the city manager's staff--two special assistants and the community liaison officer who works with neighborhood block clubs. The cuts will save about $172,000 in salaries and benefits.
However, two assistant city managers are being put on budgets of other departments and a host of computer and financial staff members are being transferred to the city controller's budget.
In the Police Department, two of the four commanders will be demoted to the rank of lieutenant, six lieutenants will go back to being sergeants and four sergeants will become patrol officers. In the Fire Department, the deputy chief's job will be eliminated, along with the offices of training and emergency preparedness. Officers handling those duties will be demoted.
Despite assurances over the past two weeks that the council would make every effort to spare the city ambulance service, council members Tuesday decided to eliminate the service, putting putting eight ambulance attendants in the Fire Department out of work. The paramedic service, however, was left intact.
The city will now explore contracting with a private ambulance company. City officials have complained for some time that the city-run service did not pay for itself because the county refuses to reimburse Compton for the service it provides to indigents, even though other cities are reimbursed for the same service.
The adoption of a spending plan climaxed a budget crisis that swept City Manager James Goins out of his job, prompted the council to order all employees with city cars to turn them in, and resulted last week in the first layoff notices.
In all, about 110 city employees--more than 10% of the work force--may be laid off in the next 30 days. Acting City Manager Howard Caldwell said he could not give the exact number of layoffs but that 158 positions have been eliminated from the budget. However, more than 40 of those positions are vacant, he said.
Caldwell said it will take the city's Personnel Department a few days to determine which of the positions being eliminated are filled by employees who have Civil Service protection. Those with protection can claim the right to a comparable job in another department if the job is filled by an employee who does not have as much seniority.
In many cases, however, there are no comparable jobs. In the Planning Department, for example, two planners are being laid off and there are no comparable jobs in other departments.
Police and Fire Department officers were stunned by the council's action and by Mayor Tucker's impromptu speech in which he said the city ought to dismantle the Police and Fire departments and contract with Los Angeles County for those services because it would be less costly.
"We just can't afford the luxury of all these things," said Tucker.
"I'm too devastated right now," said Police Cmdr. Thomas Armstrong when asked to comment on the council action. He is not one of the commanders to be demoted. Police Chief Ivory Webb said the city is in "very serious financial straits" but that despite the cuts his department will continue to "provide maximum services to our community."
Eighty-one percent--or $16.7 million--of the city's general fund of $20.6 million is earmarked for the Police and Fire departments. In carrying out the police demotions, some council members, particularly Moore, achieved a goal they have been advocating for some time, to get more patrol officers on the streets. As a result of the demotions, 11 more people will be assigned to the patrol division.
Councilwoman Jane Robbins made a motion to fund the Police and Fire departments at their current level without any cuts, but she dropped it after Filer said it was "laudable but not affordable."
In all, the council agreed to about $8.7 million in cuts suggested by Caldwell, who had been assigned to revise the budget that Goins had submitted two weeks ago, hours before the council fired him. Goins' budget was $101 million.
Besides the $4.7 million in payroll cuts, Caldwell slashed $3.1 million from operations and maintenance and $1.3 million from the capital budget.