By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park officials Tuesday will set out on what in recent years has been a wrenching, often politically perilous process: combing through a new city budget while trying to determine where to make cuts.
The agenda for Tuesday’s 1 p.m. meeting at City Hall suggests the City Council will face decisions as tough as any they made last year, when they cut the city’s workforce by 34 positions, shut swimming pools and reduced park upkeep to achieve nearly $3 million in savings.
Interim City Manager John Dunn, in a memo to the council, department heads and employee groups, said financial projections show the city must cut $800,000 to $1 million in each of the next six years to be on a “positive financial path at the end of that period.”
And while the proposed $25 million 2011-2012 budget currently envisions no layoffs or service cuts, Dunn plows into equally nettlesome territory, repeatedly raising the question of the city’s labor costs, especially in the area of benefits.
“If bilateral agreement is not reached in these matters, then there maybe no choice but to further cut personnel and services to our citizens,” he wrote in a memo entitled “Employee Pay and Benefits — A Thought Paper.”
He raised concerns about stipends public safety officers earn for extra assignments, duties or qualifications.
“I have never seen such a list of stipends or the fact that they are cumulative and not limited to some specific amounts,” Dunn said.
He said that Department of Public Safety stipend pay rose from $445,000 in the 2006-2007 fiscal year to $773,984 last year.
Representatives of the city’s public safety officers’ union did not respond to requests for comment Monday, but in the past have said that officers agreed to furloughs that amounted to 9 percent pay cuts and that eight police officers and firefighters were lost to layoffs or attrition last year.
Representatives of other city employee unions, whose benefits — particularly paid time off, such as vacations and holidays — Dunn also highlights, greeted his remarks warily.
Asked whether his 26 member Service Employees International Union unit, which represents public works employees, would be willing to consider reductions in benefits or pay, shop steward Jim McIntyre said: “Not at this stage. I believe other units have some catching up to do with our unit, to be honest with you.”
He wouldn’t specify which units he was referring to, but said that the union has other proposals to bring forward that reduce costs without cutting pay or benefits.
Angie Smith, president of the Rohnert Park Employees Association, which represents clerical and office staff, said: “We’ve taken significant cuts. Not only we have taken significant salary and benefit cuts we have lost a huge percentage of employees in our group.”
The association is down to 26 employees from 45 a little over a year ago.
Council members said they welcomed the meeting, which Dunn has termed a “conversation,” as a chance to build on progress the city, with the passage in June of a half-cent sales tax measure, has made toward fiscal health.
“We have to put things back on track,” said Councilman Jake Mackenzie, who said increases in pay and benefit levels trace back to the early and mid-2000′s.
“It’s a conversation that really needs to take place and it’s one that’s going to take political courage.”