EL CERRITO -- The City Council adopted a balanced 2014-15 budget June 17, but the balancing is being done mainly by not filling positions deemed necessary to carry out the city's strategic plan.

El Cerrito will be doing without a human resources manager, economic development program manager and accounts receivable clerk.

At the same time, it has no resources to fill three vacant police officer positions, among 12 other vacancies, according to a memorandum to the council from City Manager Scott Hanin.

In a key budget-cutting move, management employees outside the police and fire departments have agreed to increase contributions to their pensions from 4 percent to the full 8 percent of salary.

El Cerrito is also in negotiations with employee groups to lower its labor costs further, according to Hanin.

"Active negotiations are underway with all the city's employee groups to seek or require concessions to reduce overall staff-related expenses," Hanin wrote.

The two-year budget proposes to spend $41.7 million from all city funds in 2014-15 and $41.9 million in 2015-16. The 2015-16 budget includes a projected deficit of about $100,000.

The city is forecasting an increase of about $1 million in its medical and pension costs for employees in 2015-16.

Proposed spending for 2014-15 will result in the city's reserve fund falling to an estimated 5.1 percent of its budget. The situation is especially troubling for council members who have a goal of increasing reserves to 10 percent or even 15 percent as a hedge against an economic downturn.

"We are at a very low point in reserves right now, a place we don't want to be," said Councilman Greg Lyman.

Hanin has held out the possibility of placing a measure on the November ballot to extend and increase Measure R, a seven-year, half-cent sales tax passed in 2010.

Hanin estimated that an enhanced Measure R could yield an extra $300,000 to $400,000 annually, which could be used to bolster reserves or hire more police officers.

The budgets were written using information from a series of community meetings held in March to assess the priorities of residents, who put "ensuring the public's health and safety" at the top of the list.

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