By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Healdsburg has managed to trim its budget, cutting its workforce and obtaining concessions from employees. But the red ink keeps on flowing.
The City Council on Monday approved a $7.9 million general fund budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes a projected deficit of $808,000 that will be covered by the city’s reserve fund.
Councilman Tom Chambers called the gap “pretty scary.”
“We’re still a far cry from balancing the budget. We will have a lot of tough years ahead,” he said.
“Everyone is suffering,” he said of the impacts to employee salaries and public services.
Healdsburg has $4.5 million in its general fund reserve, which serves as a “healthy” cushion, in the words of Councilman Jim Wood.
But projections are that the reserve fund could run dry by mid-2016. The City Council tentatively has approved asking voters to approve in November a half-cent sales tax increase to help ease the shortfalls.
The 2012-2013 projected deficit comes on top of a $384,000 gap between revenues and expenditures in the current fiscal ending June 30.
The deficit for 2011-2012 had been predicted to be nearly $1 million but turned out smaller, thanks to a unexpected surge in sales and bed tax revenues.
But city officials also are bracing for the possibility they may have to pay the state as much as much as $600,000 that was used to administer redevelopment programs after Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature abolished redevelopment agencies earlier this year.
The budget approved Monday includes eliminating a few positions in the Police and Fire departments as well as the Finance Department.
The police budget is dropping to $4.2 million, down from $4.4 million, primarily by eliminating a police officer and a dispatcher position. The department will be down to 15 officers.
Four years ago, at its peak, the department had a $5.1 million budget and 18 officers.
City Council members also are helping to cut costs, even though it’s largely symbolic, by agreeing to pay 10 percent of their medical insurance premiums and 100 percent of their dinner costs at monthly meetings of the Mayor and Council Members Association.
The seven-member firefighters’ employee union has agreed to concessions totaling $77,000. Firefighters will pay 9 percent of the cost of their pensions and 10 percent of their medical premiums.
“We feel as always we’re doing our part. We’re doing what we can to help out. We recognize the times we’re in,” Fire Capt. Jason Boaz, union president, said before the council meeting.
In the negotiations that just ended, the union also agreed that new hires will have less lucrative pensions. Instead of being able to retire at age 50 with 3 percent of their salary for every year worked, new firefighters can retire at 50 but with only 2 percent of their salary for each year.
The elimination of a part-time and a seasonal firefighter also are helping to pare the department’s budget, although some of the ensuing gap is being plugged with a $325,000 federal grant that will pay for a full-time firefighter engineer for the next couple of years.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org