Deep cuts for city’s budget
Across-the-board cuts would affect fire, police and roads
By Susan Wood
Tribune staff writer
Marking an upcoming fiscal year of belt tightening, South Lake Tahoe residents may experience a slew of inconveniences as a result of city budget cuts that range from longer fire response times to unplowed bike trails in winter.
These hindrances provide just a preview of across-the-board city department cuts released Monday at a City Council budget and strategic planning workshop at the Tahoe Keys Marina.
And it could be worse if a sales tax proposal set to go before voters in November doesn’t pass.
Along with marketing subsidies, the proposed staff cuts will be voted on upon the adoption of the budget due to go into effect Oct. 1.
“This is a pretty bleak prediction for our immediate future. I think the City Council needs to think of the impact of reductions and cuts on our employee pool,” Councilwoman Judy Brown said.
She fears morale will drop.
“We commend our employees for being patient in realizing the quagmire we’re in,” she said.
Department heads have worked on the reductions, amounting to 10.4 percent, for months as the city has outlined a $3.1 million shortfall.
Most involve positions left vacant – unless, of course, a sales tax measure projected to rake in $2 million annually for the city doesn’t pass Nov. 2. Measure Q will ask residents to raise the sales tax a half-percent to 7.75 percent.
If it fails, city staff and the council have painted a dire picture that may lead to another 5 percent round of cuts in each department.
“If the sales tax measure fails, the impact will be much more. This is not a scare tactic – just a fact, just a reality,” City Manager Dave Jinkens said.
For now – Fire Chief Mike Chandler, who’s departing his post Sept. 3, will leave vacant five firefighter posts to bring the tally down from 11 to eight and run fire resources out of station 2 at Al Tahoe Boulevard and Highway 50. Stations 1 and 3 at Pioneer Trail and the “Y,” respectively, will house only emergency vehicles.
“It’s going to affect response time,” Chandler said during a break.
The chief is also concerned about the city providing adequate backup for Lake Valley and Fallen Leaf Lake fire departments. If their contract falters, he stands to lose another $13,500.
The police department faces the same quandary.
Lt. Terry Daniels told the council it’s prepared to meet the requirements of cuts to his department, which will be down four posts from vacancies and retirements.
When Councilman Hal Cole asked about the nature of community impact, Daniels provided a typical scenario in which a homeowner may have a longer wait for an officer if a “rock is thrown through their window.”
“It would be unrealistic to say there’s not going to be a delay,” he said, adding that officer safety should not be compromised. “Three police officers (on a shift) – now that’s thin. That’s as thin as it’s going to get. But (at least) we’re not alone out there. If we have a major incident, we’ll have backup.”
On the streets of the city, residents may notice more cracks in the pavement because there will be no money for street overlays, said Public Works Director Brad Vidro.
“The longer we go the worse they get,” he said.
From the streets to the bike trails, the city staff will be asked to do more with less – a harsh reality for employees still recovering from cuts in 1999.
Parks Superintendent Steve Weiss said the community may realize it has to blaze its own trail on the bike paths because they won’t be plowed in winter. In addition, that’s the season during which the city will close Bijou Community Park.
With the proposed $2 million in job freezes and operational cuts to accompany the $580,000 in reductions to marketing subsidies, Councilman John Upton asked Finance Director Bruce Budman if the concessions would represent enough to “stabilize our budget position.”
“What we’re doing here is life support,” Mayor Tom Davis said.
– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org