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Destination budget cuts

Michael Schneider

In anticipation of general fund budget shortfalls of $1.4 million projected to begin to show up over the last few months in 1997, the city of South Lake Tahoe implemented cuts to city staff and services – and “Destination 2000” was born.

A brave crew of 23 leaders of city government came together to make hard decisions regarding the cutting or saving of people and programs. They not only persevered in their task, but finished it more than two months ahead of schedule.

The goal was to solve the city’s budget crisis not only in 1997, but in the coming years without affecting the line-level and public-safety services.

“We were forced to do something,” said Kevin Cole, one of two council members who served on the committee. “Destination 2000 was the best solution available to us.”

The Destination 2000 committee realized downsizing the bureaucratic web spun by six city departments could be accomplished by combining them into three concise departments.

Safety Services became the former police and fire departments, Public Services became public works and planning, and parks and recreation and support services lost a a chunk of revenue and became General Services.

Parks and recreation took the biggest hit, losing $300,000 in the coming years.

“Parks and rec is meeting the challenge,” said Judy Brown, council member of the stricken department which lost its director, Don Radford, as a result of the budget cuts. “They’re stepping up to the plate.”

Two other department head positions were also eliminated along with 15 total positions including 10 layoffs.

Although staffing levels dropped to an all-time low of 182 full-time city employees, the cuts were made in areas that allowed the city to preserve its levels of services.

The cuts were approved on Jan. 21 by the council despite objections from critics.

Council critic Bill Crawford chastised the council for putting a band aid on the problem rather than addressing the cause.

“The thing that is driving the deficit is not that you are paying employees too much or you are overstaffed – it is the debt the city has created for itself through redevelopment,” Crawford said at the Jan. 21 council meeting, drawing responses from all council members.

The senior community also expressed concern that with part of the cuts proposed to privatize the Senior Center, it would eventually be lost.

At the time, council members assured the seniors that this would not happen. Today, Brown said she has no regrets in implementing Destination 2000. She said all is going as planned and the budget crisis has been averted.

“I think we’ve been fortunate to have city employee input,” said Brown, passing the recognition to the city’s employees. “I credit them with the success.”

Tom Davis, council member who was mayor at the time of the implementation of Destination 2000, said the council has fulfilled the goals originally set forth in the January plan.

“We absolutely accomplished our goals,” said Davis, who said he did what he wanted to do as mayor. “The pain and agony was in doing the budget each year. Now we have the budget set for the next three-to-five years and our employees don’t have to worry each year.”

“This is a necessary part of keeping the city going,” Kevin Cole said.


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