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Budget panel finds way to delay 200 layoffs

An additional $5.8 million in property taxes, plus cuts in city departments and outside consultants would yield $16 million in total savings.

May 16, 2012|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
  • L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian, shown in March, said Tuesday: "Our first goal is restoring services."
L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian, shown in March, said Tuesday: "Our… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

A Los Angeles City Council committee came up with a plan Tuesday to avoid laying off more than 200 city workers at least until Jan. 1, thanks in part to a last-minute discovery of new tax revenues.

By realizing an additional $5.8 million in higher than expected property taxes and trimming money from city departments and contracts with outside consultants, the council's Budget and Finance Committee was able to put on hold a plan by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to eliminate 669 positions, 209 of which are currently filled. The bulk of the layoffs would hit the Los Angeles Police Department, where roughly 159 clerk and secretarial workers were targeted.

The committee, which now sends its proposal to the full City Council for approval, recommended the city use half of the $16 million in total savings it identified to defer the layoffs while the council decides how best to use the remaining funds.

Villaraigosa's budget proposes closing a $238-million deficit by tapping $29 million in new revenues from unpaid ambulance billing and $48 million that the city will get from the state's elimination of the Community Redevelopment Agency, along with other savings. The committee left most of his proposals intact.

Since the economic recession hit, officials have eliminated nearly 4,000 positions across the city through layoffs, transfers and an early retirement program. According to City Councilman Paul Krekorian, the committee chair, those cuts have decimated some core city services by removing key workers.

He asked for reports from city analysts about which positions across the city are most critical to decide which jobs, if any, to eliminate after Jan. 1.

"The process that we're engaged in now will be determining which of those positions should be cut and which should be restored," he said. "Our first goal is restoring services, not protecting jobs for their own sake."

City union leaders who have bitterly fought the proposed layoffs welcomed Krekorian's decision.

"I think that this is a very careful, thoughtful and deliberate process," said Cheryl Parisi, chairwoman of the Coalition of L.A. City Unions. She said she thinks the time frame will allow workers in positions that are cut to transfer to equivalent positions that officials decide to save.

The committee forwarded the mayor's budget to the full council, which will discuss its proposals Friday and probably vote on them Monday.

In addition to putting the layoffs on hold, the committee voted to add funding for tree-trimming services and a summer jobs program. It elected to provide utility bill subsidies for an additional 11,400 elderly and disabled residents, and replaced a proposed $10 hike in selected parking fines with an across-the-board $5 increase to dozens of other violations.

Villaraigosa's budget proposal on parking fines had drawn the ire of renters' rights advocates who zeroed in on the plan to increase the fine for cars parked on the road on street sweeping day. They said the street sweeping tickets disproportionately target families who live in neighborhoods with numerous apartments and scarce parking spaces.

By imposing a smaller increase on more violations, the committee saved $2.4 million.

The rest of the cost savings identified by the committee were a combination of one-time measures and structural savings.

Council members called for slight salary reductions for employees in the mayor's Gang Reduction and Youth Development Program, and for a $2-million cut in money to start a nonprofit group focused on economic development in the wake of the state's move last year to dissolve the redevelopment agency.

And then there was the $5.8-million surprise that committee members received Tuesday morning, when Los Angeles County officials announced that estimated property tax growth will be higher than expected for the coming fiscal year.

Committee member Bill Rosendahl, who turned 67 on Tuesday, said he considered the newfound revenue a birthday present.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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