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O’side braces for $8M in cuts

OCEANSIDE — An update on the city budget, presented at the council meeting Feb. 24, warned that a drop in revenues means $8 million in budget cuts is on the way.
“We need to put together a plan that addresses that shortfall and provides services that are absolutely necessary,” City Manager Peter Weiss said.
City departments are asked to come up with 20 percent cuts to their budgets, and public safety departments are asked to cut their costs by 5 percent.
In addition to department cuts, the city is looking into suspending low-priority city projects, adding revenue enhancements and reducing employee costs, which will likely mean layoffs for city employees.
Several low-priority projects have already been put on hold until the budget bounces back. A decision was made to put off improving the beach restrooms, building the harbor acquisition center, remodeling the amphitheater, landscaping College Boulevard, and moving forward with the Oceanside Boulevard Specific Plan and the Citywide General Plan update.
The timeline for those projects to resume is uncertain. “We still have more stores closing than opening,” Weiss said. “I don’t know when it’s going to get better.”
Closing the Mission Branch Library, postponing construction of Fire Station No. 8, and outsourcing street sweeping services, ambulance services and the operation of El Corazon Senior Center are also being explored as additional ways to cut costs.
Potential revenue enhancements under consideration are to establish a citywide sales tax, raise parking meter rates, recover costs of fire department services, and sell city property on Bush Street.
Employee costs will also be looked into to balance budget shortfalls. Salaries account for 68 percent of the general fund budget. Ideas to reduce employee costs will be explored before a decision is made to lay off city employees, but Weiss said layoffs seem likely.
Weiss is currently in negotiations with city bargaining units. In order to save jobs, pay reductions, unpaid “day off” furloughs, and requesting employees to pay into their retirement are under consideration.
“Last year the city sent out 51 layoff notices,” Councilman Jerry Kern said. “It ended up 26 people were laid off, and the balance of 27 people retired. We can’t keep doing that.” Kern said there will not always be employees who are ready to retire and that means more city workers will lose their jobs due to lay offs.
“As a city we can’t go out of business,” Kern said. “We still have to provide services.” Kern said that layoffs will eventually force the city to stop providing some of its public services because there simply will not be enough employees to run those services.
Kern proposed that the city hire a consultant to conduct a citywide organizational assessment to pinpoint how the city can be run more efficiently. Council voted 2-2 against funding the study with Mayor Jim Wood and Councilwoman Esther Sanchez voting no.
Sanchez said an organizational assessment is premature, since the city has not prioritized city services and projects. “First we need to deal with what our priorities are and then we can determine how we can deliver services efficiently,” Sanchez said. She said community input is essential in determining city priorities. “We know we can’t keep everything and doing a little bit of everything is not good,” Sanchez said.
While the council vote was split on approving an organizational assessment, all council members said they want to resolve budget shortfalls and move ahead with economic development. “We’re looking at the same elephant from different angles,” Sanchez said. “None of these decisions are going to be easy. Not all of us are going to be happy.”
Budget cuts will be looked into and presented at a budget plan workshop April 28.