Atwater ready to reveal budget

Layoffs and pay cuts will save about $3.5 million

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 25, 2013 

— A new budget set to be unveiled at Monday's City Council meeting is expected to reflect the financial troubles plaguing the city.

Though it won't have a chance to be adopted until a Feb. 11 meeting, Monday's meeting will be the first look at the much anticipated document.

Frank Pietro, Atwater's interim city manager and police chief, said about $3.5 million was trimmed from the budget. The cuts included eight layoffs, employee pay cuts and nonpersonnel reductions.

The budget will still be slightly in the red, but Pietro hopes that the city's finances will be fully balanced by the time the 2013-14 fiscal year budget is presented around mid-April.

Had the council approved a previous budget that was proposed for the 2012-13 fiscal year, it would have put the city in the red by about $3.6 million, Pietro said. Since it was a two-year budget, that deficit would have been upped to about $7 million.

"As much trimming as we did, we're still a little in the red by about $600,000," said Pietro, who took over the city manager role when the previous city manager was put on administrative leave in August.

Despite the shortfall, Councilman Craig Mooneyham said the city might be able to offset some of that with the collection of revenue from business-license fees and unpaid utility bills.

"There are still a few items to be investigated that might actually balance us, but we won't know that until a couple weeks from now," he said.

While the city has gone through with eight layoffs, pay cuts and furlough days, Mooneyham said the council has pushed hard for nonpersonnel cuts.

"One of the things I've pushed for is the nonpersonnel budget, and it's gone back for revision three times now," he said. "I think we have it cut to the absolute bone. Anything that we can cut that doesn't involve laying anybody else off has been scrutinized."

The new budget for the current fiscal year won't include any additional layoffs.

Police funding has been reduced by about $1.2 million, Pietro noted. The police budget totaled $6.7 million a year ago.

Much of the reduction came from a 22 percent pay cut members of the Atwater Police Officers' Association took in October. The department has been reduced to 26 officers from 36 in 2007.

On March 5, voters will decide if they want to implement a half-cent sales tax to improve public safety services in their city.

Atwater has been battling a general fund deficit of about $4.2 million in addition to deficits in the water and sanitation funds.

Simply identifying revenues and cash flow has been a major part of correcting the city's budget situation, according to officials with Municipal Resource Group, a financial consulting firm the city hired to help with the budget.

During Monday's meeting, the council will consider approving a new agreement with the group that includes $44,400 for phase one and $46,700 for phase two of reaching fiscal sustainability.

The work for phase one involved creating a budget for the current fiscal year, Pietro said. If the expenditure for phase two is approved, the work will be focused on the 2013-14 fiscal year budget.

Monday's meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the City Council chambers at 750 Bellevue Road in Atwater.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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