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Cutbacks May Come Soon in Surf City

June 14, 2003|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

The slow economy and revenue shortfalls are causing Huntington Beach officials to readjust the city's budget -- a move that has left them $11.5 million short and could result in 111 employees losing their jobs and cutbacks in everything from local cable-TV programming to library services.

A vote on the $135-million budget is scheduled next month, but dozens of employees were called into management offices this week and told that their positions may soon be eliminated. The layoffs would bring the city staffing levels to their lowest point in at least 13 years.

"The city did a poor job of forecasting what the revenue would be. That's part of it and part of it is the economy," Councilwoman Debbie Cook said.

"These are the cuts that really, really hurt. If somebody had some great idea of what else we could do, I'd love to hear it."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 17, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 94 words Type of Material: Correction
Huntington Beach layoffs -- An article and graphic in the Orange County edition of Saturday's California section about an $11.5-million budget shortfall in Huntington Beach incorrectly reported that 111 employees could lose their jobs. The deficit could cause 111 positions to be eliminated, but only 50 of those are now filled. Of those 50 employees, 11 are expected to retire. The story also reported that the city's Public Works Department would be hit hardest, with the loss of 40 staff members. The department will be reduced by 40 positions, of which 23 are filled.

The Public Works Department would be among the hardest hit with a reduction of about 40 of its 233 staff members, according to the budget proposal. Pest-control specialists, street maintenance workers and city engineers would be among the eliminated positions. Fire and police would lose a combined 43 positions through vacancies and retirements. And the city's cable-TV station will cut all programming except City Council and Planning Commission meetings.

The president of the city's Municipal Employees Assn. declined comment until the union board meets Tuesday.

"The cumulative effect [of three years of budget cutbacks] is starting to have an impact, but I'm hopeful that we'll continue to provide the fundamental services, the core services," City Administrator Ray Silver said.

In their recommendations, department heads reported that they have tried to preserve the front-line employees who work directly with the public. As a result, several management positions are likely to be eliminated. Crew sizes, in areas such as street maintenance, will be reduced and streamlined.

Library services also are targeted with a proposed 34% cutback in the book budget, magazine subscriptions reduced from 650 to 550 and the purchase of 1,141 fewer children's books.

Silver said he hopes the community and organizations such as the Friends of the Library will rally behind the city and boost their fund-raising and volunteer efforts.

The city began adjusting the 2002-03 budget this year by freezing some expenditures and positions and by reducing projected sales tax revenue. This adjustment is far more serious -- and permanent.

"These are ongoing reductions to take the place of those one-time stopgap measures," said Clay Martin, who is the director of administrative services.

Although cuts have been proposed to close the $11.5-million gap, it does nothing to address the 2003-04 budget or the cutbacks likely to be imposed after the state budget is approved this summer.

Huntington Beach will have make more cuts because it lacks significant reserves and because of a weak sales and hotel bed tax base, Silver said. For example, Huntington Beach's annual bed tax revenue is about $4 million; Anaheim has projected $60 million in bed tax revenue for next year.

While the outlook isn't great, Silver said, it could be worse.

"The sky is not falling," he said. "We're not Long Beach, where they're $90 million short. ... We're talking about $11.5 million out of a $135-million fund."

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