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Oakdale council considers difficult budget choices

OAKDALE — Locking the restrooms at city parks. Closing the community and senior centers. Fewer police officers.

Those are among the difficult choices facing the City Council as it deals with a $1.1 million general fund deficit for the budget year that starts July 1.

The City Council will hear from four department heads and discuss the 2010-11 budget at a Monday workshop.

Oakdale has cut $2.3 million from its general fund in the past two years. The general fund pays for basic serv- ices, such as police and fire. The city's 2010-11 general fund budget will be $8.1 million after cutting the $1.1 million.

The police and fire budgets make up about 75 percent of the general fund. City Manager Steve Hallam is recommending a 15 percent cut to both budgets. That would be a $644,000 cut to police and $183,000 to fire.

Last year, city employees took a 5 percent pay cut. The police's share of that was more than $300,000, with officers taking five furlough days, giving up their uniform allowances and agreeing to other concessions.

The city laid off one employee under last year's budget cuts. But the the pay cuts expire June 30 and the city needs to renegotiate deals with its labor groups.

"Unless we get more revenue or barring some other cost-saving measure such as significant wage and benefit concessions, layoffs are inevitable," Hallam said.

Oakdale has 108 full- and part-time employees.

Hallam said last month that the council is directing him "to look at a much more reasonable and sustainable cost for employee salaries and benefits, particularly their benefit package. We are looking at long-term sustainability."

Sgt. Michael Eggener, vice president of the Oakdale Police Officers Association, said labor talks will begin soon with the city. "We just hope to work together and get things taken care of," he said.

No decisions yet

The council will not make any decisions Monday and will hold at least one more workshop before adopting the budget in June.

Mayor Farrell Jackson said, "It's going to be a tough budget." But he added he is hearing good news from two local auto dealers, which could mean an improving economy when the council takes up the budget in 2011.

Hallam said closing the senior and community centers or reducing park maintenance are among the policy choices the council faces as it decides where to make its cuts. He said residents also have a choice in the level of services the city provides.

"Residents have the potential to say, 'We are tired of this. What would a public safety or general tax keep open?' "

Still, Hallam said, residents have stepped forward. He said graffiti abatement is done by volunteers and a volunteer coordinates the weed abatement program.

"People in this community step up and want to be part of making it," he said.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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