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Officials Say Oxnard May Start Layoffs : Budget: Council actions to reduce a $4-million shortfall touch off an angry response from residents.


Despite slashing jobs and services to slice the city's $4-million budget shortfall in half, Oxnard officials said Wednesday they may be forced to fire city workers and further gut programs to balance next year's spending plan.

The Oxnard City Council tentatively agreed Tuesday to cut more than a dozen positions from the city work force, reduce library hours and shut the doors at the mini-library in the city's La Colonia barrio.

Those decisions touched off angry reactions, with some residents vowing to fight the reductions.

"I thought we would have some strong leadership on the council to represent the minority communities, but I'm having a difficult time finding it," said Carlos Aguilera, president of the La Colonia Neighborhood Council. "Things haven't changed. They continue to cut services in the minority communities because they are the least likely to protest."

Still faced with a $2-million shortfall in a budget expected to total more than $60 million, council members said the next round of budget cuts could be the most painful yet.

The City Council on Tuesday decided to hold off on a number of other controversial cuts--such as closing the Carnegie Art Museum and eliminating two Fire Department squads--to give city employees an opportunity to suggest alternatives.

"The next $2 million is going to be a lot tougher," Councilman Mike Plisky said Wednesday. "Nothing is sacred at this point."

Largely due to cuts handed down by state lawmakers, officials in the county's largest city have been forced in recent years to slice 120 positions from a work force that stood at 1,100 in 1990.

But while the council has managed to whittle the work force through attrition, city officials say they are not sure whether they can avoid layoffs much longer.

"We're at the point where, if not this year then next, we will have to lay people off," Plisky said.

Personnel Director Dene Jones said Wednesday she received phone calls all day from city employees worried about losing their jobs. She said many of the positions considered for elimination have not been identified.

"The council still has to adopt a budget that implements these cuts," Jones said. "Whether there's going to be any changes or not, any reconsideration, I don't know. There's just a lot of uncertainty."

David Hartsuck, president of the 270-member union representing the city's clerical, technical and professional workers, said he will recommend consolidating services and getting rid of department heads.

"Our position has always been that the city is top-heavy in management," he said. "We certainly are opposed to laying off the workers who are actually providing a service to the public."

Councilmen Tom Holden and Andres Herrera said they hope most of the budget reductions can be obtained by making city government more efficient.

Both said they believe savings can be achieved by merging some of Oxnard's 16 departments. They said they hope city employees will find solutions to streamline operations.

"For too long, this city has reduced services while maintaining the machinery of government," Herrera said. "We're looking at the consolidation of departments at the highest levels, at cutting overhead and other costs that have suffocated us."

Added Holden: "I'm committed to providing the same product by becoming more efficient. We just cut $2.1 million out of the budget with a relatively small impact on services."

However, some argued the impact was anything but small, especially on library services.

Council members tentatively agreed to reduce operations at the main library and the branch library at the South Oxnard Center from five days to four. The Colonia library would shut its doors and book budgets for the entire system would be slashed. Those cuts total about $208,000.

But the council stopped short of endorsing a proposal that would have closed the South Oxnard branch library for an additional savings of $186,000.

In the last two years, officials said the city's library hours have been scaled back 32%.

"I do think the libraries have taken their fair share of the burden," said Felicity Harper, president of the Oxnard Friends of the Library. "We will certainly appeal to the City Council to save as many of the current library hours as possible."

Even those spared from the chopping block on Tuesday continue to worry about their fate.

In a report issued last week, City Manager Vern Hazen said the council could close the Carnegie Art Museum, for a savings of $150,000 a year, and consider selling a part of its $1-million collection.

Citing the potential for establishing a private foundation that would raise money to keep the museum open, council members rejected the idea for now. But Cultural Arts Supervisor Andrew C. Voth said he fears the museum could again be targeted as officials look for cuts.

NEXT STEP: The Oxnard City Council still faces a projected $2-million budget shortfall and will consider options for cutting the deficit early next month. In coming weeks, Oxnard employees will be asked for cost-cutting suggestions, while department managers will come up with a plan to consolidate operations.

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