On June 10, San Bernardino became the third California city in less than… (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles…)
The City Council of San Bernardino, which is in bankruptcy and facing a $45.8-million budget shortfall, voted Monday to slash more than $26 million in spending and freeze debt payments as the municipality struggles to stay afloat.
The austerity plan, a required step in the federal bankruptcy process, freezes vacancies in the Police Department even as the city deals with an increase in violent crime. The Fire Department's overtime budget was slashed by 35%.
The city had already stopped making payments to CalPERS, the state's public employee pension fund, since filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection Aug. 1, a move city officials estimate will save more than $12 million.
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The council voted 5 to 2 in favor of the plan, which both Mayor Patrick Morris and City Atty. James Penman said was a mandatory step in the effort to restructure the city's debts and repair its finances under federal bankruptcy protection.
At a recent hearing, federal Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Jury told San Bernardino officials that she expected the budget-cutting plan to be filed soon. Some of the city's creditors have argued that San Bernardino does not qualify to file for municipal bankruptcy protection.
"We have a mountain to climb here," Morris said during Monday's meeting at City Hall.
Councilman Chas Kelley blasted the budget-cutting plan for being shortsighted and not addressing San Bernardino's long-term financial health, which he said depends on attracting business and expanding the middle class.
"This budget is a financial equivalent of using leeches to bleed a sick patient," Kelley said. "There is no vision in this budget for our city's economic renewal."
Joining Kelley in voting against the plan was Councilman John Valdivia, who objected to freezing the police force "in a city with all-time-high crime rate levels." The city has 299 sworn officers in the current budget, although 18 positions have been vacant.
Councilwoman Wendy McCammack acknowledged that many of the cuts were objectionable but said the council had little choice but to make the tough decisions demanded by the bankruptcy process. Failing to do so, she said, would lead to the city dissolving and being governed by the county.