BENICIA -- City officials are recommending $800,000 in general fund cuts, primarily through freezing vacant positions, in a new two-year budget released last week.

The targeted positions include a fire marshal, legal technician, public works field utilities and street apprentice, parks and building maintenance worker, police dispatcher, police officer and the recently laid-off community development director.

The City Council is set to hear budget presentations the next two Tuesdays. The council extended the budget process one month beyond the typical June 30 deadline because the city's finance director left for another job in April.

Like many cities, Benicia has faced declining revenues and rising costs in recent years. After starting the previous year with a balanced budget, the city unexpectedly encountered a $1.2 million shortfall, primarily because property tax revenues fell short of projections.

Since 2009, the city has eliminated funding for 27 positions -- 12 percent of its work force -- and negotiated 10 percent salary and benefit cuts with employees.

Despite these cuts, the city has struggled to balance its general fund budget while meeting its goal of a 20 percent reserve.

Even with the $800,000 in newly proposed cuts, reserves are projected to drop from 19 to 16 percent. Looking ahead, city officials are recommending $900,000 in added budget adjustments to achieve a 15 percent reserve level in fiscal year 2014-15. The process of identifying those cuts isn't expected to start until the fall.


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The 2013-14 budget anticipates $29.9 million in general-fund revenue and $30.9 million in spending. The next year, $30.2 million in revenue and $31.1 million in spending are projected.

On the plus side, city officials say the overall financial picture is improving, in part because of much-needed water and sewer rate increases and rate-smoothing of future employee retirement costs. The proposed budget also includes raises in internal service rates to address rising costs and begins to address the city's unfunded workers' compensation fund.

Following the expected adoption of the budget later this month, city officials plan to continue working on a number of steps over the next 18 months to implement a long-term budget stabilization plan. Those steps will include exploring the structure of departments and reviewing the master fee schedule.

The council is set to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 250 E. L St.

Contact Tony Burchyns at tburchyns@timesheraldonline.com or 707-553-6831. Follow him at Twitter.com/tonyburchyns.