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In the grips of a $6.7 million deficit, the City of Escondido is grabbing for every penny in savings.

So far, revenues have dropped by $4.1 million. This year’s expenditures are $6.6 million less than the previous year and more than $10 million shy from that of fiscal year 2007-2008.

City employees have been asked to work fewer hours, to bring in their own coffee, and to not use personal heaters at work.

Director of finance Gil Rojas says city staffing has been reduced to 1991 levels.

Searching for more savings at the June 3 budget workshop, the council gave staff recommendations where they might cut additional costs.

Councilmember Sam Abed referred to a city-run warehouse that provides free sunblock and other items to city employees. He also asked whether the city would save any money if they closed the East Valley branch library. Councilmember Olga Diaz requested turning Reidy Creek Golf Course over to a private company to run, or, as Diaz later suggested, selling the golf course outright.

A week later, at the June 10 council meeting, when the council was expected to adopt this year’s budget, finance director Rojas returned with information on those suggestions.

Rojas addressed the city store first.

“There’s real cost savings from these employees not going to the local hardware store for supplies,” said Rojas in response to councilmember Abed’s suggestion. “We make sure that the guys out in the sun all day are protected. We make sure those items are available and they are used. And, there’s been a reduction in work-compensation claims because of it.”

Councilmember Abed interrupted Rojas. “I have a question. Somebody brought me sunglasses today that are distributed for free at that shop.”

“Yeah, we don’t refer to them as sunglasses,” answered Rojas. “We call them safety glasses.”

“I’m still not quite convinced that this is a good justification for a city store. I would like to see more concrete analysis,” said Abed.

Rojas moved on to Diaz’s suggestion of getting rid of the Reidy Creek Golf Course. During the past five years, the golf course has lost money, but Rojas says this year the golf course is expecting a $15,000 profit.

Besides that, adds Rojas, the City still owes more than $6 million in bonds for the golf course.

Diaz then suggested raising the fees at the golf course.

“We have raised fees…and I’m sure if you were to raise it five dollars you would get less rounds and the maintenance stays the same,” said Rojas. “So you really wouldn’t be showing much of a profit from doing that; you’d really be taking a bigger loss.”

“I guess I’m not as concerned for the golfers as I am for the kids that want to play youth sports,” responded Diaz.

“That’s a decision this council has to make.”

As for the East Valley branch library, most of the employees split their time at the main library and the branch library, so savings might be negligible, said community services director Jerry Van Leeuwen. Regardless, Abed wants a cost-analysis done on the potential savings that might be realized with the closing of the branch library.

After the budget update, finance department staff presented the council with the 2009-2010 operational budget.

When it came time for public comment, former councilman Ed Gallo approached the podium and addressed the council.

“I don’t envy your position, although I’d really like to be there helping out. As for the company store, I agree with [Abed] and [Diaz] -- ace it. Consultants, cut them out. You don’t need that, either.”

Gallo then commented on closing the East Valley branch library. “If we save fifty thousand, then that’s fifty thousand. It doesn’t have to be two to three hundred thousand in savings. You start cobbling all these fifties and hundreds and it starts adding up to real dollars.”

Tune in to the June 17 council meeting, where the search for more savings will continue.

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