CONCORD -- Furloughed city workers gathered outside the corporation yard Friday morning, saying they wanted to go to work and serve the public.
Friday was the first of 13 planned city worker furlough days for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The furloughs will save the city about $1.1 million, according to Interim City Manager Valerie Barone.
Workers represented by Teamsters Local 856 said that's a small amount compared with the funds brought in by Measure Q, the half-cent sales tax increase voters approved in 2010. Union workers said that tax money has helped the city's budget get back in the black, but workers are still being forced to cut back.
"We want to restore service ... and help the citizens of Concord," said Kai Horlacher, a sewer management worker. He said for some employees making as little as $13 an hour, the loss of 13 work days a year is "huge."
Among those furloughed Friday were workers who clean and maintain public parks, business license and permit employees and some 911 dispatchers. Essential employees in some departments were on duty Friday, Barone said, and will serve their furloughs on other days when other workers are back on duty.
"What these guys out here are doing is asking to work," said Peter Finn, vice president of Teamsters Local 856. "They're not asking for a raise.
"The city administration has done a good job of hiding the fact that the economy is improving and they have a ton of extra money. If the public knew that, they wouldn't stand for (cuts in service)."
Barone said that Measure Q funds were helping the city run a surplus, but that the tax increase is a limited-time source, due to expire in 2016.
"Our reserves do grow while we're receiving Measure Q funds, and we're keeping services at the level they're already at," she said. "As soon as Measure Q stops coming in as a revenue source, we'll be spending down our reserves again."
City Councilman Dan Helix, who recently announced he was forgoing a $571 monthly stipend for health care coverage, said he came to the corp yard Friday to support the workers, but added that the city needs to build up its budget reserve.
"The surplus that's talked about from Measure Q was salvation for the city," he said. "But to run an efficient organization, you have to have some reserve ... for the future."
Helix said developing business growth would provide the city with a stronger tax base for the future, and hopefully allow officials to end the furloughs.
Ed Birsan, who hopes win election to a council seat in November, said the workers are being punished unfairly.
"The guys who are the lowest-paid are getting clobbered," he said. "I want to see the graffiti cleanup guys back on the street.
"The gangbangers don't take a furlough day."
Contact Daniel M. Jimenez at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/DMJreports.