The looming layoff of 67 city employees was the center of debate at the City Council’s budget hearing Tuesday evening.
In a presentation given to a packed chamber council, City Manager Jack Schnirman proposed to layoff 25 full-time employees and 42 part-time workers in effort to close a $10 million deficit and balance the budget for fiscal year 2012-13 starting July 1. He projects the layoffs will save the city $2.5 million each fiscal year.
“We’ve got to balance the budget,” Schnirman said.
While these declared “first round” of layoffs will impact employees in several departments, from fire to sanitation to beach maintenance, some people contend that the reductions should be across the board. CSEA President John Mooney noted that not a single CSEA worker - who will bear the brunt of the layoffs - was on Schnirman’s chart showing a list of the 25 highest salaried positions.
“You cannot balance the budget on the backs of people making $8 an hour that are the lowest paid workers for the City of Long Beach,” Mooney said about the ongoing negotiations between workers and city officials. “... Everybody has to be at the table and everybody has to share.”
Other of Schnirman’s charts showed that CSEA staffing levels increased from 205 in 2005 to 241 last year, and that the total number of city employees went up from 1,282 in 2004 to 1,624 in 2011 as the city’s population has declined 6 percent since 2000. As an example, he highlighted the 207 lifeguards that were hired last year compared to 158 who were hired in 2004.
“Last year alone we saw a tremendous hiring of lifeguards,” he said. “That’s unsustainable.”
But Councilman John McLaughlin contested this example, noting that lifeguard staffing has increased due to Nassau County requiring more lifeguards to man each station throughout the beach season.
“It’s not an inflated number, they’re not falling over each another,” McLaughlin said. “… So that number is not right.”
The city’s proposed $87.9 million budget represents a 4.1 percent tax levy increase and an 11.9 percent deficit reduction surcharge aimed at helping to close the deficit. Toward that end, the city must also generate $7 million in personnel savings.
Schnirman said further staff reductions could be avoided if employees pay a higher percentage of their health care contributions, through wage freezes and other steps.
“These things can save money and quite frankly save jobs,” he said.
The lifeguard union has already taken a wage freeze and a reduction in guaranteed hours, the city manager said, and he expressed disappointment that only 10 CSEA workers, fewer than expected, took an early retirement incentive that has so far saved the city about $360,000.
“Those would have been additional savings,” he said.
While Schnirman said that staff reductions would not diminish city services, others begged to differ, such as the paid firefighters, five of who will lose their jobs. Firefighter Sam Pinto said that loss of manpower would negatively impact safety in regard to response times in emergency situations.
“There’s definitely circumstances where services will be diminished if we do lay off these five firefighters,” Pinto said.
The “elephant in the room,” as some called it, are the police department’s salaries and overtime expenses. One of Schnirman’s charts showed that a police lieutenant last year made the most money, $228,000 in salary and overtime. Councilman Michael Fagen encouraged the city manager to take a closer look at the police overtime line in the budget.
“We’ve done a very good job of tightening overtime controls, yet we still budget the same $1.1 million that was budgeted in previous years,” Fagen said.
Kenny Apple, president of the Long Beach Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, told Patch last week that the police department has sustained six retirements over the past year and that the city has not yet indication that they would be replaced.
“The PBA firmly believes that any further reduction of the force utilizing layoffs would be entirely inappropriate and has the potential to jeopardize the level of services and safety currently dedicated to the citizens of Long Beach,” Apple said.
The city will hold a second budget hearing on May 22.