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Police, Fire Units Spared Huge Cuts : Budget: The council is still faced with a $1.6-million shortfall. Trimming city staff and hiking some fees are two options, but the final decision will not be easy.

June 10, 1993|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GLENDALE — Police, fire and other public safety units will be spared severe cuts in Glendale's proposed budget, but other municipal services are bound to be greatly curtailed, city officials warned this week.

After a series of marathon study sessions, City Council members and other officials have narrowed a $6.4-million gap in next year's $325-million city spending plan by about 75%, but they still have to deal with a $1.6-million shortfall that so far has eluded solution.

The final budget, which must be adopted in three weeks, will require some painful decisions, council members agreed after the latest study session Monday. At stake are further reductions in the city staff and more cuts in services coupled with higher fees.

Council members "are getting down now to the hard crunch on what they are going to do," Finance Director Brian Butler said. "It is not done yet and it is not going to be easy."

"I am very frustrated," Mayor Larry Zarian said after Monday's five-hour meeting. "The last thing that I want to do is increase fees and taxes. . . . Depending on the taxpayer to make up the difference in the budget annually is just not right."

But he also said during the study session that he is reluctant to impose additional staff cuts after a hiring freeze implemented 20 months ago left more than 80 staff positions vacant.

"We are talking about real bodies, real lives, that are going to be eliminated," the mayor said.

Without an official vote, council members Monday agreed to slash $1 million in police and fire services--far below the public safety cuts projected. The cuts are limited to such matters as postponing the purchase of emergency vehicles.

The council members also sent managers scrambling back to their budget books this week to look for other ways to cut costs.

Much of the difficulty in balancing the budget stems from the unpredictability of city revenues and expenditures. Glendale's general fund is the backbone of municipal services, such as police and fire protection, street repairs and planning.

In contrast, the enterprise budget accounts for trash collection, water and other utilities. Rates can be raised or lowered to meet fluctuations in the enterprise budgets.

But revenues and expenditures affecting the general fund are volatile. The state this year is threatening to cut Glendale's share of property tax revenues by $3.2 million to help make up a $2.6-billion deficit in state tax revenues.

The city also is facing a $3.2-million increase in expenditures for union-negotiated wage hikes for police, fire and general city employees.

Those two key elements make up the bulk of the projected $6.4-million gap in the general fund, where increased revenues have stagnated and even declined from dwindling revenues in sales taxes, building fees and other monies affected by the long recession.

The city has projected next year's general fund budget to be $78.8 million--a 4.5% decrease from this year. About 85% of the general fund is spent on employee salaries and benefits.

In view of the budget crunch, top and middle-management city employees already have agreed to forgo raises for the second year in a row, which will save the city about $500,000. Members of the three city unions--representing general employees, police and firefighters--are being asked to do the same. Those negotiations are still under way and officials are not optimistic that employees will make significant concessions.

Like most cities, Glendale also is lobbying heavily in Sacramento to persuade the Legislature to abandon proposals to decrease allocations of property tax revenues to local government. While Glendale is required by law to adopt a balanced budget by July 1, officials might not learn until fall just how severely the city will be affected by the state budget, which last year was not finalized until October.

The process has left local politicians guessing about just how much must be cut from the projected budget and how many more jobs will be affected.

"It is such a difficult thing for us to sit here and do this without knowing where the state is," Zarian said.

A preliminary budget introduced last month called for across-the-board 7% trims in all city departments. Those cuts could have eliminated up to 69 city positions, including 25 layoffs.

The Police Department would have lost $2.2 million and 35 officers, and the Fire Department faced a reduction of $1.2 million and 12 staff positions--proposals council members quickly admitted were unacceptable.

The council this week decided to maintain funding for all police and firefighting safety positions.

The council also has approved a series of new and increased fees and fund transfers to narrow the gap in the shortfall by about $1.58 million.

But the council's leniency in trimming costs in police and fire services still leaves the $1.6-million gap, which will require greater cuts in other city departments, officials said. An undetermined number of staff positions are still in jeopardy.

Just how and where the cuts will be made will be debated June 22 when the council will again meet in a study session.

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