HUNTINGTON PARK — City officials have decided to lay off 25 employees and eliminate six vacant positions--about 15% of Huntington Park's work force--to free money for salary increases and other expenses.
The cuts were made after voters in September defeated a proposed tax on utilities that would have provided $2.74 million to balance the budget and hire more police officers. The city's engineer and two department heads will lose their jobs in the layoffs, Chief Administrative Officer Donald L. Jeffers said Wednesday.
Details of the remaining layoffs, which will be determined by seniority, were being worked out Wednesday. The majority of the layoffs will be made in the Public Works, Engineering and Recreation departments, Jeffers said. The council spared the Police Department.
Priority for Law Enforcement
"The priority has shifted from services to law enforcement," Councilman Jim Roberts said.
The City Council unanimously approved the layoffs during a four-hour, confidential personnel session that ended after midnight Monday, Roberts said. The cutbacks will free about $800,000 this fiscal year that ends June 30, Jeffers said.
Roberts and Jeffers said the public probably will not notice the effect of the layoffs immediately. But they said overall maintenance of Huntington Park and other city services will probably deteriorate over time.
"Initially (residents) won't see a great problem, (there will be) kind of an eroding of services," Roberts said. "We won't see the streets dealt with as well. We won't see recreation dealt with as well."
As of press time Wednesday, city employees had not been told who would be laid off, representatives said.
"Everybody's getting lost, confused," said Martha Castillo, president of the General Employees Assn. "Nobody knows who will be affected. We have a lot of heads of household." The association represents the city's clerical workers.
There were similar fears among employees in the Public Works Department, which is represented by Teamsters Local 911 in Long Beach.
"Everybody's worried," said shop steward Tomas Carranza. "We don't know what to expect. It's like a cold shower."
Last summer, the council approved a $27.8-million austerity budget. It provided $10.2 million for general city services during the 1989-90 fiscal year. But the budget contained no money for raises for the city's 208 employees and a small general fund reserve of $11,400 for this fiscal year.
City officials had pinned their hopes on a 7% utility tax to raise $2.74 million a year, but voters soundly rejected the tax in a special election on Sept. 12.
The council members said if the tax had passed it would have solved the city's financial problems and provided enough money to hire 15 more police officers.
Roberts said the council did not cut Police Department personnel because the city already has too few officers. The department is authorized to have 60 sworn personnel to patrol a city of about 52,000 residents.
At full strength, Huntington Park has 1.15 officers per 1,000 residents, while the average city police department in the state has 1.51 officers per 1,000 resident, according to a recent study.
The Police Department has five vacancies that remain in the budget but will not be filled immediately, Roberts said. The city enacted a hiring freeze shortly after the utility tax was defeated.
"The Police Department was our priority for preservation, but there was no way we could add a single officer," Roberts said.
Will Contract Engineering
Virtual elimination of the city's Engineering Department will require Huntington Park to contract for engineering services for public improvement projects.
City Engineer Mohammed Rafique will be laid off along with four other employees of the eight-person department, Jeffers said. Two vacant positions will be eliminated and the remaining employee will coordinate contract services.
Jeffers said the effect will be to slow street and other public improvement projects.
"We won't be able to do a lot of the in-house design work on various projects," he said. "We'll have to contract that out anytime we have a public works-type project."
Thirteen employees are being laid off from the Public Works Department and two vacant positions are being eliminated, Jeffers said. The department had 52 employees.
Mechanical Supt. Jim Finerd and Streets and Parks Supt. Bill Huyck are being laid off and their duties will be assigned to the remaining two superintendents.
"Our response time on street repairs and street problems will be greatly diminished," Jeffers said. "We'll no longer be able to respond on 24-hour, 48-hour notice to do street repairs."
Recreation Effect Unknown
The city's Recreation Department will lose five of its 14 employees, Jeffers said. Exactly how the city's recreation program will be affected was not immediately known, he said.