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Cost-Cutting Proposals for City Hall Anger Union : Government: The Chamber of Commerce recommends the use of more contract labor, more part-timers and mandatory furloughs.


LONG BEACH — The Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has some cost-cutting ideas for the city that are raising the hackles of union leaders.

In a report issued last Friday, the chamber recommends that city managers consider a number of budget-trimming steps that could profoundly affect the way the city does business.

They include:

* Contracting with outside firms to perform city services now performed by municipal employees.

* Adopting a temporary policy of mandatory furloughs, forcing city workers to take a few days of unpaid leave every month.

* Replacing full-time workers with part-timers to save benefit costs.

* Renegotiating benefit packages with city workers to require higher deductibles and co-payments for medical plans.

* Using any extra funds to rebuild the city's General Fund reserve rather than starting new programs.

* Eliminating positions through attrition.

* Eliminating programs and services financed by the General Fund that are "not essential" to public health and safety and that could be provided by the private or nonprofit sector.

"The city needs to be a little more innovative," said Randal Hernandez, the chamber's vice president of government affairs. "The economic climate of Southern California is changing . . . businesses and cities are going to have to change."

Chamber Chairwoman Jane Netherton said the organization was not suggesting that the city hire businesses to provide all city services. "I think we need to be real cautious about contracting out--can (a firm) handle a city of this size?"

The mere mention of contracting was enough to disturb union leaders.

"The Long Beach Chamber of Commerce is a tool of management," complained Dennis Buschman, president of the Machinists Union lodge representing the 3,700-member Long Beach City Employees Assn.

He added that the union was "absolutely, totally against" contracting services to outside firms.

As an example of the problems that can accompany contracting, he said the city Water Department several years ago hired a janitorial service but stopped using it because the workers were not satisfactory. However, Dan Davis, general manager of the Water Department, said the department was happy with the contract work and continues to use a private cleaning firm--for about 30% to 40% less than it would cost to use city workers.

Mayor Ernie Kell said he and the City Council would review the chamber recommendations. "I think they have some very good ideas," he said.

Still, Kell said, implementing some of the suggestions could be difficult.

"I'm not prepared to comment on all the ups and downs. I haven't had an opportunity to evaluate it yet," he said Wednesday.

Assistant City Manager John F. Shirey said a number of the chamber recommendations are already in effect to some degree, such as the use of part-time positions. The two major exceptions were mandatory furloughs and extensive use of contracting, which is now restricted by the City Charter. The chamber report advocated a change in the charter to permit more contracting.

At the same time that the chamber Task Force on City Fiscal Policies is calling for more budget cuts, it is asking for financial favors for business, saying incentives are needed to stimulate the Long Beach economy.

The report, for example, said the city should consider waiving or eliminating some business-related taxes and fees, such as demolition relocation fees. The study also suggested that the city give preferences to local businesses in awarding contracts, even if they're not the lowest bidder.

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