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Layoffs Feared in Hahn Budget

Managers and union leaders say lost jobs, reduced services are possible if plan is OKd.

May 28, 2003|Jessica Garrison and Matea Gold | Times Staff Writers

Shorter hours for libraries and recreation centers. Fewer crossing guards at schools. Dirty park restrooms. Pink slips for city employees.

Those are some of the possibilities if the City Council today approves Mayor James K. Hahn's proposal to shave 3% from most city departments to help finance Police Department expansion, said city managers and union leaders.

Hahn is pushing the plan, which would save about $30 million in the next fiscal year, as a compromise to salvage his goal of hiring 320 more police officers. The mayor insists that the 3% cut can be made without firing any city employees or curtailing services.

"There's no question it's going to hurt and it's going to be painful," the mayor said, adding that he wants the city's general managers to spend a month scouring their budgets for places to cut. "I'm going to ask them to be creative about that and look at ways to minimize the pain."

Hahn said much of the savings could come from deferring the purchase of equipment or delaying service expansions.

"I want to send a strong message to the general managers, 'Don't put on the chopping block something you know that's going to be politically unacceptable to the council,' " Hahn said.

But some council members and city officials said departments might have no choice but to start making cuts that hurt.

"We've been asking people to do more with less bodies," said Councilman Nick Pacheco, chairman of the council's Budget and Finance Committee. In the last year, city departments had to make substantial reductions and freeze hiring to avoid a $250-million shortfall, he said.

"We've pretty much hit the limit now, and any more cuts are basically going to mean layoffs," Pacheco said.

The choice between hiring more police and rolling back other basic services now frames the budget debate that has dominated City Hall for the last month. When the City Council votes on final approval of the budget today, several council members said, they are considering backing Hahn's substitute plan, although it remains unclear whether the mayor has the eight votes needed to pass it.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who will introduce a motion supporting the mayor's proposal, said she does not believe the plan will translate into layoffs.

"Those departments that are top-heavy on management would probably be best positioned to take a look," Perry said.

Council Balks

Since he released his proposed budget in April, Hahn has relentlessly pushed an ambitious hiring plan to boost the Police Department's ranks to nearly 10,000 officers. But the council balked at passing Hahn's budget after city analysts warned that Los Angeles could face a $280-million shortfall by June 2004. Last week, the council voted to delay funding the LAPD expansion and other new initiatives for several months until the city's financial picture is clearer.

Hahn countered with the compromise plan that would cut 3% from all city departments except for police, fire and sanitation.

"While we have tightened our belts a great deal over the last two years, we can do more," the mayor wrote to council members last week.

Julie Butcher, general manager of the largest city union, said she does not know how city managers could reduce their budgets without firing staff.

"There's just not 3% to cut," said Butcher, who runs Local 347 of the Service Employees International Union. "There's no fat left. We're down to gristle."

Many general managers of the city's departments said that any further belt-tightening could be suffocating. In the city attorney's office, a spokesman said, further budget cuts would "severely impact the way the city attorney's office prosecutes misdemeanors and defends the city in civil matters."

Animal Services officials said dogs and cats in the city's shelters would not miss any meals, but a cut might hinder the department's ability to respond to calls.

The city library system is losing 26 unfilled positions to attrition next year, said City Librarian Susan Kent.

Further cuts could threaten next year's planned expansion, when 10 new and refurbished libraries are scheduled to open, including three in neighborhoods that have never had local branches.

If $1.9 million is cut out of the Library Department, as proposed, branches could close earlier and the book inventory could be frozen, Kent said.

"Since the majority of our budget is in books or people, if we reduce hours, that means reducing staff," Kent said. "There are no frills."

Wayne Tanda, general manager of the city's Transportation Department, said a 3% cut would "without a doubt result in some drops in service to our customers."

Tanda said he didn't have specifics yet, but said possible areas to cut include reducing crossing guards as well as measures to improve traffic flow on city streets.

In addition, he said, employees would be asked to do more work with fewer resources, leading to "more stress ... and probably just a bit of frustration."

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