EL CERRITO -- Faced with projected declines in property and sales tax revenues, the city will explore every alternative it can find to maintain programs and services in fiscal 2013-14.

El Cerrito's proposed budget presented to the City Council by City Manager Scott Hanin on Tuesday leaves no room for new initiatives, such as increased library hours and spending on preliminary studies to build a new library, which some community members are demanding.

Revenues are projected to be $43.43 million, down from a projected $45.38 million this year and $50.82 million in 2011-12.

"Margins in this budget are so thin, it's frightening," said Councilwoman Jan Bridges. "There's no money for any (new) projects."

The main cause of the income shortfall is a drop in property tax, which has fallen from $10.76 million in 2010-11 to $6.32 million projected for 2013-14.

Finance Director Lisa Malek-Zadeh blamed most of the decline in the loss of property-related revenue from the state's elimination of redevelopment agencies.

Property tax income has also been lost from the county assessor's office lowering property valuations during the real estate downturn, Malek-Zadeh said.

The city has been ferreting out grant money to pay for programs and services and leaving jobs in city departments unfilled to try to cope, Hanin said.

The fire department will cover three authorized positions by having firefighters work overtime for a savings of $150,000.


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Public works will be without three of its 24 authorized positions.

The city's staff has been cut by 10.4 percent through attrition over the past five years, according to the budget document.

Salaries in most categories will remain static, but the city will absorb a 2 percent increase in pension cost and a whopping 17 percent hike in employee health and dental benefits.

The city is also saving $570,000 in police costs, even though it's not by choice. The department is short-handed because it is having difficulty finding candidates who can meet qualifications, said Police Chief Sylvia Moir.

In the meantime, burglaries in the city are up 40 percent, Moir said.

"I tell people 'We're trying our best to hire police officers,'" said Mayor Greg Lyman. "There's no policy not to hire police officers."

Besides library upgrades, other initiatives requested by the council were left out of the budget, including a reserve fund for one-time expenditures, an increase in general fund reserves, a fund to repair and replace aging city facilities and more money for playfield and playground maintenance.

"We backed out (of the budget) what we can't afford," Hanin said. "If we went any further we'd have to (eliminate positions) or reduce services somewhere else."

Councilman Mark Friedman asked Hanin to try again to find a way to keep the city's aging library open more hours and update a 2006 library needs assessment, a preliminary step toward building a new facility.

The library, which opened in 1948 and was renovated once in 1960, is open 35 hours per week compared with more than 60 hours per week for some Contra Costa County branches.

About a dozen library backers showed up at the meeting to register their support.

"We need to find some creative ways to fund new library hours," Friedman said. "I'd like to see some options on how we could fund these in the next two weeks."

The council will review the budget again and consider adopting it at its next meeting on June 18.

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