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The only way to address a deficit that size is by scaling down staffing, something the city can’t do without sacrificing public safety. Over the past four fiscal years, the City of El Cajon has cut 56 full-time positions, an overall 12 percent reduction in the city’s workforce.

A similar financial crisis is occurring in La Mesa. In last year’s six-year financial forecast an ongoing annual shortfall of $4 million was projected. The city adopted this fiscal year’s budget with an imbalance of $2.3 million.

Gary Ameling, director of administrative services, says the city’s been trying to address its structural deficit by streamlining government and eliminating dozens of nonsafety positions. Despite a growth in population, staffing is now at 1990 levels. The city implemented a new staffing model for the fire department and began contracting out city services.

Relief for both La Mesa and El Cajon came last November when residents approved increases in the sales tax: a three-quarter percent increase in La Mesa, raising the tax to 8.5 percent, and a one-half percent increase in El Cajon, where the sales tax is now 8.75 percent.

An increase in the sales tax, however, may not be enough to meet current economic challenges. Despite passing a 1 percent sales tax increase in 2006, which has brought in approximately $8.5 million annually, National City projects a $3 million deficit for this fiscal year. A decreasing demand for lumber has impacted the city’s largest single revenue generator, Dixieline Lumber, and the drop in car purchases has hurt sales tax revenues generated by National City’s Mile of Cars.

In the next fiscal year, when most city employees will have salary increases, the city’s structural deficit is expected to rise to nearly $7 million. However, the revenues from the sales tax increase have contributed to growing National City’s general fund reserves to $9 million.

“The sales tax increase has temporarily solved the structural deficit,” says Chris Zapata, city manager for National City. “But we understand that we need some new sources of revenue or we need to cut some spending, so we’re trying to do both at this time. It’s going to mean more belt-tightening for next year.”

Chula Vista, the second-largest municipality in the county, has a severe structural deficit. This fiscal year, the city used onetime funds to trim $5 million from its original $9 million deficit. But in fiscal year 2010, because of fewer development fees, the reduction in property and sales tax revenues, and 4 percent raises for city employees beginning in January 2009 and January 2010, the projected shortfall is $20 million.

“For us, it’s a structural issue,” says assistant city manager Scott Tulloch. “We expect this $20 million shortfall is going to go on for three or four years. It’s not just a onetime hiccup where we can look at a onetime solution. We need to look at restructuring government so that we can count on $20 million a year less cost, going on for several years.”

Last year, as part of the city’s restructuring effort, 165 of 1200 full-time positions were cut from the budget. This coming year another 135 positions are targeted.

“You’re talking about a fourth of the city’s workforce will be gone,” says Tulloch. “It will have a tremendous impact on the city’s ability to provide public services. Last year we didn’t touch public safety — police and fire — but this year, we think everybody’s going to have to give something.”

To avoid more cuts to essential city services, this week the Chula Vista City Council is scheduled to consider increasing the sales tax. The soonest the city could act is in early May by a mail-in ballot. For that to happen, all councilmembers need to sign off on the proposal by next Tuesday.

“There’s another issue,” says Tulloch. “A mail-in ballot would cost the city about $250,000, and, of course, that’s money we just don’t have.”

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Comments

JohnnyVegas Jan. 21, 2009 @ 12:10 p.m.

Hey, looks like those gold plated multi milllion dollar Cadillac pensions paid to out GED educated cops and FF's really can't be paid with monopoly money.

Who would have guessed.

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investor1 Sept. 15, 2009 @ 2:35 a.m.

Not to dampen the Cities pleas for funds. But if the Cities went to thier City development departments and said hey why haven't any of these multimillion and billion dollar construction projects been permitted yet?. Lets take Chula Vista Can we say billion dollar bay front project 100 acres plus still in limbo land ? Its been years .Get it started Chula Vista and your deficit is gone. Lakeside what about the 800 acre development project in the mountians all the infrastructure is in including roads we would like to start building the 200 ranch home custom estates. Hmm being held up for grading plan for each pad ? HELLO you already graded in the roads,sewers, fire hydrants its all paved already I think its time to cut out the delays and get the money and jobs flowing. Every City I reviewed I can easily save them twice the money there short this year with just a few easy steps in commonsense.

The City of San diego ask yourself why is the school district spending 362,000 on mitigating a dry creek bed on miramar road when the cedar fire burned through it four years ago and its naturally restoring itself ? This is a waste of school funds . I think the nature rule is let nature take its course.

Agian , Lets take business licensing in the Cities. The city of San diego just did a solar map of all registered solar installations in commercial and residential areas. You know why not even half the companies installing them have the business licenses in the perspective City. So here you have the contract costs and the person who installed them go after your tax money.

You need to look deep into the construction market and stop the companies from allowing to pay sub-contractors under the "piece work plan ". Big builders are sticking to the Cities by piece working projects they don't contribute to anything in a W-2. The sub barely makes minimum wage if that usally no workmens comp,edd,sdi,fed,state,city taxes are paid . If the Cities did the same type of mapping they do for solar on construction permits they could collect millions of dollars from subs and contractors and owner builders who dont pay any of these taxes or insurances.

Everyone knows construction is a multi-billion dollar industry tap it Cities . The only way your going to get the money is go after it.

In conclusion ,to stimulate your pocket books you need to create jobs. To do that you sometimes need to get rid of the red tape and start the projects.Cities put your foot down and push them thru.

Look around people every tree, plant has been planted by a developer and watered by one if you stop development everything will dry up and die. If you don't believe me go to the museums and look in the history books. There are pictures of the way it was.

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investor1 Sept. 15, 2009 @ 2:59 a.m.

To the Cities privatize your libraries and your services they can be more efficently run by private companies than the Cities.

  1. We do not pay previaling wages
  2. We do not have a ridiculous retirement plan.
  3. We cut jobs when the market is slow " The Cities drag employee cuts out forever if your down forty percent you cut forty percent. don't let the labor unions control the Cities it will only get worse.
  4. Our insurance costs are ALOT lower than the Cities.
  5. We use volunteers there free.

As far as contracting out services. I would like to see the prebid lists and all services that have been really sub-out. Post it City of San Diego. I have seen nothing this was voted on three years ago. Lets show some lists have to see it to believe it

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