No Livingston layoffs, but $146,000 deficit projected

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJuly 7, 2014 

Livingston is facing a $146,000 shortfall in its proposed 2014-15 budget, despite a 4 percent increase in tax revenue.

The City Council reviewed the proposed budget in a workshop last week. The city’s overall expenditures were projected at $4.72 million, outpacing its revenue of $4.58 million.

The city manager hasn’t recommended any layoffs, though the council will consider eliminating a number of vacant positions, including four in the Police Department.

“These individuals either left or these positions were never filled,” said City Manager Jose Ramirez. “If we have an officer that left because they took on another position, we would be looking at trying to delay filling the position to get the savings.”

Police Chief Ruben Chavez said he’s working with city leaders to review the department’s staffing situation, but said officer layoffs are unlikely.

“We’re not going to lay off anyone, because we are already short-staffed. But we have these positions that are budgeted but not filled,” Chavez said. “My worry is that we’re going to get below that minimum staffing level, and the concern is that we won’t be able to maintain that level of service.”

City officials have negotiated concessions with employee unions, including furlough days, a monthly $50 medical contribution by each employee and freezing a 40-hour vacation cashouts for the year.

Despite the agreements, employees are still getting raises, which will cost the city about $69,000. The city paid an additional $9,500 in employee benefits, projections show.

The $146,000 deficit is also linked to money Livingston owes the state, Ramirez said.

The city received a $500,000 grant in 2005 for the renovation of the Livingston Court Theater. City officials spent $441,000 on architectural and construction drawings and for city staff time to work on the project.

Since the theater was never renovated, the city has to pay back the grant from its general fund. Odi Ortiz, assistant city manager and finance director, said this year’s payment of $147,147 is the final one and $100,000 will come from the general fund. The rest will come from the Municipal Facilities Impact Fee fund, Ortiz said.

Proposed budget documents also show the city’s gas tax revenues are projected to be about $55,000 lower in 2014-15 compared with 2013-14.

Ramirez said Livingston is “highly dependent” on fuel consumption and an increase in gas prices hurts the city’s finances. Residents are either buying gas outside the city or driving less.

“We’ve noticed that when the price of fuel goes up, there’s a decline in purchases and that affects us,” the city manager noted.

In other city business, the council last week appointed Ranjeet Jhutti to the Planning Commission. Jhutti, 31, who served as an alternate for nearly a year, will finish the term of Michael Silva, who was killed in a motorcycle crash earlier this year. Jhutti’s term will end in December 2016.

“There’s definitely a sadness because our community has suffered a loss,” Jhutti said. “In talking with Michael and other commissioners, there’s definitely a sense of community service. I grew up here, and now I’m at a stage in my career where I can give back.”

City officials are looking for someone to fill Jhutti’s role as an alternate. Those interested should write a letter of interest and fill out an application.

Commissioners get a stipend of $25 a month.

 

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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