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SLO council squabbles over budget

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A trio of hardcore budget cutters emerged at the April 19 SLO City Council meeting, calling for a smaller budget and smaller city workforce.

Council members Dan Carpenter, Andrew Carter, and Kathy Smith voted as a block, demanding a more aggressive bargaining stance with city employees.

The city is facing a $4.4 million yearly deficit, and this was the meeting at which the City Council provided instruction to the city staff for how to bridge the gap. Staffers developed a plan that eliminated 13 positions—most already vacant through retirement or promotions—and cut $1 million from operating programs and another million or so in “revenue enhancements.” The council significantly altered the staff proposal by increasing spending and reducing revenue enhancements. The arguments began when the budget needed to be tweaked to pay for the adjustments.

The city staff suggested asking the employee unions for $2.1 million in concessions when the present contracts expire at the end of 2011. The new budget-cutting trio insisted on more. Carter wanted $3.2 million in concessions and said more positions needed to be cut.

It became obvious that the more aggressive budget cutters were looking to alter the long-term outlook for wages and benefits, where the mayor and John Ashbaugh looked to simply balance the budget.

“I believe the citizens of San Luis Obispo want us to be more aggressive,” Carter said.

Mayor Jan Marx was visibly upset by her council comrades’ stance. She preferred to stay with the numbers presented to the council, which would theoretically balance the budget for the next two years.

“I think it would be very risky,” Marx said. “Continuing in this direction would create vast disruption throughout our city staff. We are elected officials; we are also employers. … I don’t want to lose a lot of very good people because of this kind of proposed harsh treatment.”

Carpenter disagreed with the mayor’s outlook: “While I’m very sensitive to our employees as an employer, and I believe in being compassionate, as employers we’re also responsible for the assets of the organization, and that responsibility comes from the 44,000 people that live in the community, and we must be sensitive to the people who put us in place to manage their dollars.”

The council voted 3-2 to pursue a more aggressive negotiating position. The staff will take the council’s request and return with a concrete budget proposal in May.

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