Budget trims to shrink city staff

RIVERBANK -- A tight budget is shrinking the city's staff. Two full-time employees -- a planner and an assistant mechanic -- will be laid off this month, City Manager Rich Holmer said.

The staff cuts are necessary because one of the city's unions wouldn't agree to concessions, Holmer said. The city wanted the 38-member union that represents rank-and-file workers to give up cost-of-living raises for the next three years, Holmer said. This year's raise is 5.2 percent.

The union would only give up the raises if the city agreed to preserve its benefits package over the next three years, Holmer said. Under the union contract, the city covers the full cost of health and retirement benefits; employees pay nothing. The contract expires next year. The city wants the option to negotiate a cheaper benefits package then.

The layoffs come on top of other cuts. A full-time public works employee and three part-time employees in public works, community development and administration were let go in the fiscal year that ended June 30. One vacancy in parks maintenance and another in code enforcement are unfilled.

"We're spread thin," Holmer said. "You're not going to see things happening quite as quickly. We're trying to do the best with less."

The city also could lose two police officers, but a federal grant might save those jobs.

In the current fiscal year, which started July 1, the city expects to spend $7.1 million on general fund expenses but take in $6.6 million in revenue. The general fund pays for services such as police, parks and street maintenance. The city will draw upon its reserves to balance its general fund budget.

To trim costs, the city's seven department heads and 13-member midmanagement union agreed to take one furlough day and forgo cost-of-living raises. Some employees still are eligible for merit-based raises, which are generally about 5 percent.

Other cuts include axing most employee cell phone allowances, Holmer said. Department heads will not be allowed to "cash out" administrative leave this year. Executive- level managers usually can take a cash payment in exchange for as many as 80 hours of unused administrative leave. The leave is paid time off that managers get on top of vacation and sick time.

Like other cities, Riverbank's staff has contracted along with the economy. The city started the last fiscal year with 76 employees. It will start this fiscal year with 69.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at or 578-2378.