LIVINGSTON — Employees from the city’s public works and parks department will be furloughed one day each month in an effort to close a $150,000 shortfall in Livingston’s proposed 2013-14 budget.
The late-night decision to approve the furloughs on a 3-to-1 vote came Wednesday after more than an hour of closed-door discussions at a special City Council meeting. After months of negotiating with the employee bargaining groups, city officials struck an agreement to implement furloughs and other concessions.
The resolution passed Wednesday night by a divided City Council vote, with Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza voting against the item. Council members voting in favor of the resolution were Jim Soria, Arturo Sicairos and Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra. Councilman David Mendoza was absent.
The one-year agreement consists of a furlough day each month, a monthly $50 medical contribution by each employee and freezing a 40-hour vacation cash-out for the year. The concessions will be effective July 1, and retroactive reductions will be made to employee salaries, according to city documents.
Odi Ortiz, assistant city manager and finance director, said 14 full-time employees will be affected by the concessions. The department’s six part-time employees are not impacted, but were subject to a reduction of hours in July.
City officials estimate the concessions will result in an $11,500 savings to the general fund during fiscal year 2013-14, and a $36,500 savings to the city’s enterprise funds.
The city’s four enterprise funds – water, domestic wastewater, industrial wastewater and sanitation – each reflect a six-digit negative cash balance as of July 2013. The largest was the industrial wastewater fund with a $1.3 million deficit, followed by the water enterprise with a $1 million deficit.
Officials are close to striking a similar agreement with the city’s clerical and administration workers, which would affect nine employees. A decision is anticipated within two weeks, Ortiz said.
Espinoza spoke in opposition of the concessions Wednesday, saying the public works and parks department are already shorthanded, and essential in keeping up with city projects.
“I know the community is going to suffer from (a cut in) services,” Espinoza said during the meeting. “I’d rather see them working. I’d rather see a (pay) cut than a furlough.”
Mayor Pro Tem Samra had a different viewpoint. “I agree there will be some cuts to services, but we have to look at both sides,” he said. “These are very trying times, not just for Livingston but other cities as well. Hopefully, if things improve, we can give things back to the employees.”
Livingston resident Katherine Schell-Rodriguez voiced worries that the reduction in staffing could impact the city’s many festivals and parades.
“As you are already well aware, public works has much more to do than mow lawns,” Schell-Rodriguez said. “My question is, with the reduction and changes in the work hours, how do you plan to cover and staff all of these events?”
Livingston City Manager Jose Ramirez responded by saying the city would utilize community participation and volunteerism, including the Police Department’s explorer program.
The Police Department’s two employee groups have been in negotiations with the city for about nine months and haven’t reached a resolution.
City leaders are not proposing taking officers off the street, but are asking for concessions such as a monthly $50 medical contribution, freezing a 40-hour vacation cash-out for the year and a 5 percent reduction in salaries, Ortiz said.
Livingston Police Chief Ruben Chavez said the city is also considering freezing one vacant officer position; three other officer vacancies have already been frozen.
Chavez acknowledged that it’s a tough situation because he supports the work of his 17 officers, but understands the challenges faced by the city.
“It just concerns me a little that we have to do the same work with less resources,” Chavez said. “If we have fewer staff, that’s going to impact our ability to respond to crimes, investigate crimes and bring people to justice.”
The Police Department’s two bargaining groups – the Livingston Police Officers Association and the police supervisors – have been in negotiations since January, according to Ortiz. “With those two, they have actually exercised the fact-finding option, which means they can request more documentation and evidence from the city,” Ortiz said.
Livingston police officer Kristin Lucas, president of the police officer association, declined comment because of ongoing negotiations.
The cost of the fact-finding process was $18,000 last year, Ortiz said, but this year’s cost is expected to be less than $10,000. The costs – mostly legal fees – are equally split by the union and the city.
Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or email@example.com.