WALNUT CREEK -- In a scene repeated at least three times in the past four years, parents, school administrators and other residents pleaded with the Walnut Creek City Council Tuesday not to cut funding for crossing guards and school crisis counselors.
Community members rallied, asking the council to continue to spend the $160,000 per year to help pay for both.
Julie Stokel, a parent of a Walnut Acres Elementary student who will soon go to Foothill Middle School, said Foothill's parent group raises $36,000 a year for the school's crisis counselors and the city chips in $10,000.
The counselors "are fully used every day they are there," she said. "This can be hidden from the community as a value, but it's an important community action."
Council members decided months ago that funding for these school programs should be examined as part of their fiscal sustainability work. And on Tuesday, the majority of the council decided the programs should continue to receive the money.
"We can't estimate what problems we avoid by having crisis counselors," said Councilman Bob Simmons.
Walnut Creek is the only Contra Costa city that pays for counselors, and the city offers a dollar-for-dollar match to public schools up to $80,000 total.
"Just because other cities aren't able to (pay for counselors) doesn't mean they don't have the same need," said Mayor Cindy Silva.
Regarding crossing guards, Simmons suggested city leaders look at having schools help out with paying for the guards.
But it's likely the crossing guards will continue to be funded as they have been -- with the city footing the bill. Walnut Creek will lose its partner in the contract; the city of Concord announced it is cutting crossing guard funding from its budget. The program will now be staffed by volunteer guards, according to Walnut Creek city staffers.
Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson said both programs represent very little of the city budget, that even if they were completely cut it would do little to help the city's bottom line.
For weeks the City Council has been receiving reports about how various programs and services are provided to the city, and their costs. Everything from parking management to library hours has been examined, and so far the council has suggested few changes.
That's something that has Councilman Justin Wedel dumbfounded. At Tuesday's meeting he said the whole point of this fiscal work was to examine what business the city should be in and what it can afford.
"We have done this for five weeks and we have not cut anything," he said.
Again and again, city leaders have hammered home that the city's long-term financial outlook projects a $2 million a year deficit every year for the foreseeable future. That is without addressing any of the major capital needs the city has for things such as roads and buildings or raises for employees. When those costs are added in, the deficit balloons to somewhere above $4 million, said City Manager Ken Nordhoff.
Silva helped point out that the Blue Ribbon Task Force, which in 2011 started looking at the city's long-term financial health, recommended sales tax be increased by a half cent to help pay for services.
Wedel said there are "City Council members openly advocating" raising taxes. But before the council goes to the public asking for any new taxes, it should make a case that everything has been tried to cut costs. He is not convinced that has been done.
"I don't think the question is should this service be provided, the question is should the city be paying for it?" He said.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.