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Oakdale council eyes layoffs

OAKDALE -- The city faces laying off five police officers and three firefighters to help close a $1.1 million deficit for the budget year that starts July 1.

Those are among the worst-case scenarios city officials laid out Monday during a City Council budget workshop.

But those scenarios don't include any wage and benefits concessions by city workers, which would offset some of the layoffs. For the current budget, city workers agreed to more than $300,000 in one-year concessions, and labor talks for next year's budget have not concluded.

City officials also floated the idea of asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax. They say such a tax would bring in $1.1 million annually, enough to wipe out the deficit caused in part by declining property and sale taxes.

"We need another stream of revenue, and having it on a temporary basis until the economy turns around and property taxes go back up, may be the thing to do," Councilwoman Katherine Morgan said after the meeting.

"The demand for services has not gone down," she said. "There's a higher demand for services. It's really in the hands of the citizens about what they are willing to pay for."

The city will need to decide within about a month if it wants to put the tax on the November ballot, City Manager Steve Hallam said. He said a tax dedicated to public safety would require two-thirds' voter approval. A general tax would require a simple majority.

But even with a half-cent sales tax, the city still will need to make cuts for the upcoming budget. Finance Director Albert Avila said the city would not start receiving revenue from the tax until March or April of next year.

The general fund pays for basic city services, such as police and fire protection. Public safety makes up about 75 percent of the general fund. After cutting $2.3 million from the general fund in the past two years because of the recession, city officials said there's not much left to cut but people.

Hallam is recommending a 15 percent reduction to the police and fire budgets.

Police Chief Marty West said achieving that reduction before any wage and salary concessions would reduce his force from 24 officers to 19. To keep up patrol staffing, the department would transfer its detective and traffic officer to patrol.

West said the reductions would mean longer response times for officers, fewer follow-up investigations and relying more on the Sheriff's Department for help with major cases. But, he said, the Sheriff's Department is facing layoffs, too.

Fire Chief Mike Botto said laying off three of his 16 firefighters would mean reducing staffing at Station No. 1 from three firefighters to two. Station No. 2 is staffed with two firefighters.

The city's 2010-11 general fund budget will be about $8 million after cutting the $1.1 million.

The City Council will have another budget workshop and is expected to adopt the budget at a June council meeting.

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

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