Special section: San Bernardino
SAN BERNARDINO - More than 100 positions would be eliminated from City Hall in a budget plan presented for the first time Wednesday, a number that City Council members and department heads said was alarming but that still leaves a deficit of more than $7 million.
The city filed for bankruptcy Aug. 1 because of a $45.8 million deficit - which Interim City Manager Andrea Travis-Miller said grows by $125,000 a day if no changes are made - and a severe cash-flow shortage.
All the cuts in the plan add up to $22.4 million, with Miller recommending an additional $9.4 million in concessions from unions and cuts to the offices of the city attorney and City Council, which were not included in the plan.
"(The plan is) a very difficult pill to swallow. It really is," said Councilwoman Virginia Marquez. "Catastrophic."
The seven-hour meeting dragged to a close at 11 p.m. after only two of nine department heads had
In addition to layoffs and attrition of those non-sworn employees - ranging from stenographers to a dispatch manager - Handy expects 11 police officers, five sergeants, a lieutenant and a captain to retire or leave for other jobs.
"Through a major reorganization, some technology updates and other things, we will be able to provide a basic level of police service with these cuts," Handy said. "It's my hope that after we hit bottom here at some point, we can rebuild... but we need to get back to a focus on basic police services first."
Handy also said he will cut overtime costs by about $100,000, end the school crossing walk program and temporarily stop buying some things such as ammunition.
Acting Fire Chief Paul Drasil said the best way to make the cuts would be eliminating 20 positions, including nine demotions but no layoffs. That would mean browning out fire stations - rotating closures of the three of the city's least-used stations for, with each closed for 48-hour period once a week - and reducing the staffing on truck and engine companies to three people.
Councilman Robert Jenkins said he'd seen studies showing that dropping the staff on ladder trucks led to a 33-percent increase in injury, meaning increased costs for workers compensation, payouts for lost employees and potential lawsuits.
"I would love for you to say this is drastic, don't do it," Jenkins told Drasil. "I will stand up for you."
Drasil said he was concerned about increased response times and risk to the public and firefighters, but declined to say the cuts were too much. Drasil said several times that Jenkins was mistaken and at one point said he didn't know where Jenkins was getting his facts, one of the more minor confrontations in a night that several residents compared to a circus.
Controversy started with the question of when to release the budget plan, which council members received last week but was not given to residents or reporters.
Several council members said that decision was unacceptable, but the council went to closed session without handing out the document.
During that closed-door discussion of legal strategies related to bankruptcy, Councilman Fred Shorett said later, someone tried to "hijack" the session with "an inappropriate motion," and he said four council members walked out in protest.
Voices were also raised when Jenkins and Penman said Wednesday's special meeting had originally been scheduled to end at 7 p.m., because some council members had committed to be at a neighborhood meeting.
Mayor Pat Morris said those with "something more important to do" could leave, but didn't see why a city famous for long meetings couldn't finish its business as usual.
There was one difference, Penman said.
"We never had a mayor before who led us into bankruptcy," Penman said.
In response to booing from the audience, Penman - who after more booing later in the meeting accused Morris of packing the room with supporters - smiled and said he'd been interrupted.
"For those that are booing, let me finish," he said. "We never had a mayor before who led us into bankruptcy - but now we do."
Morris said only that Penman's comment was clearly not related to legal advice, which he is elected to give.
Penman left to attend the meeting in Councilwoman Wendy McCammack's place, and observed when he returned that many of those saying the meeting should continue had left.
Shorett and McCammack both said attacks on staff, particularly Travis-Miller, had gone too far.
"When we beat up on our staff transparently, it turns my stomach," Shorett said.
Jenkins apologized to Travis-Miller, too.
"I apologize for my eruption," he said. "You're a professional and I respect you. No. 1, you're a lady, and a gentleman should never behave to a lady that way."
Other cuts include the expected closure of three of the city's four libraries and 45 positions eliminated from the Department of Public Works.
The council also voted to authorize Finance Director Jason Simpson to borrow from restricted funds to pay the city's expenses, a practice that Travis-Miller said was common at many cities but deepened San Bernardino's troubles when it was done for years without the council's knowledge.
San Bernardino's fund balances were not repaid within 365 days as required by law, and Travis-Miller said she could not guarantee that she would meet that requirement now.
But there was no choice, she said.
"If I don't have the restricted funds, I won't be able to make payroll tomorrow," she said.
That led to raised voices from several council members who said this information was sprung on them and they were being pressured into an illegal vote, and the motion failed on a 3-4 vote. Councilwoman Wendy McCammack then proposed allowing the borrowing but requiring a check-in within six months, which passed.