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Paso Robles discusses reducing personnel costs

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The city of Paso Robles continued to analyze how it can save money at its Sept. 1 City Council meeting in response to the pandemic, which has exacerbated the city's deficit.

"We are basically bleeding a million dollars a month as a result of the pandemic. Whereas city services, most city services, the same demand has continued as before, and other city services, we actually have a greater demand," City Manager Tom Frutchey said at the meeting.

The council approved an update to the Layoff Protection Plan, now called the Graduated Personnel Cost Reduction Plan, and authorized the city manager to implement additional cost-saving steps already planned or discussed with city labor groups.

In June, the council approved more than $7.4 million in reductions to the city's general fund budget to address this year's projected deficit.

The city is currently facing two interconnected challenges, Frutchey told City Council members.

"The first is the absolute fiscal challenge and that we do have a structural deficit. We don't generate revenues that are sufficient to fund what the public considers to be the priority services," he said.

The city surveyed the community in 2017 and has polled residents since. Their priorities have remained consistent: reliable response from police, fire, and paramedic departments, and safe roads.

The city also faces getting the community to understand its current fiscal challenges.

"We have a public perception problem in that, because the payment of taxes is so divorced from utilization of most services the city offers, most people in our community have no idea how underfunded the city is. And that's compounded and in some cases, because this is true throughout the country, there has for a long time been and this still continues to be a general distrust of government," Frutchey said.

Paso Robles already has a "lean staffing" model that keeps operating costs low while continuing to provide high levels of service as well as conservative pay ranges.

"The general perception is that the pandemic is what caused this problem. I hope you've seen through our budget discussions in the public and realized that the pandemic has just widened the gap between revenues and demand for service," Frutchey said.

Mayor Steve Martin advocated for city staff to come up with a "Plan B" that would aim for another reduction in general fund expenditures of between $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

"The closer we get, the less we're going to have to ask our citizens and the more services we're going to be able to provide our citizens," Martin said.

Along with approving the cost savings plan, the council directed staff to return to the Sept. 15 council meeting with additional potential reduction measures. The direction included a "Plan B" outlining what services and budget would need to be eliminated if Measure J-20 doesn't pass on Nov. 3.

Measure J-20 is a local 1 percent sales tax to maintain essential and general services. Δ

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