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City looks at deeper budget cuts
February 24, 2009, 12:00 AM By Heather Murtagh

Cuts in travel, training, overtime, some positions and the postponement of major capital improvement projects are before the Burlingame City Council during a study session in which it hopes to generate ideas for reducing the next year’s budget by $3 million.

In January, the council approved $2 million in cuts and revenue enhancements. Now the council will consider bringing the total reductions to $3 million with cuts such as the elimination of the Burlingame Trolley and the reduction of firefighting staff and library hours. These cuts would leave no room to fund capital improvement projects like sidewalk repairs or increasing City Hall access for those with disabilities, explained City Manger Jim Nantell. To fund those, further money-saving alternatives will need to be considered.

"We’re looking at almost $3 million in cuts. To me, I have to look at what is basic and what is luxury and try to make decisions based on that. And of course, you try to avoid reducing staff if possible,” said Mayor Ann Keighran, who was hopeful residents would show up for the study session Wednesday to learn about the budget woes.

When the budget was adopted, the city anticipated $44.24 million in revenue, said Finance Director Jesus Nava. The current year-end estimate is at $41.43 million. Both scenarios assumed the $2.24 million beginning fund balance would also be used.

To make up those losses, Burlingame department heads put together lists of proposed cuts equaling 5 percent of each budget. A second tier was created with an additional 5 percent cut. Finally, alternative ideas for saving cash were submitted. These are not being recommended at the moment, but will need to be considered if the council wants to fund any capital improvement projects, Nantell wrote in a staff report.

Other cities on the Peninsula are also looking at dramatic cuts. The city of San Carlos is considering taking $1 million in extra funds usually allocated for capital improvements and using it for operating expenses and the city of San Mateo is considering making $4 million in cuts and raising $4 million in new taxes to make up its budget gap.

Suggestions before the Burlingame City Council range from cutting travel, conferences and training for staff, elected officials and those who hold commission seats. Cutting the Burlingame trolley would save the city $110,000. One fire truck could not run when three or more personnel are on leave, saving the city $464,000. Reducing office supplies in most departments will also be considered. Closing the Easton library branch at 2 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. on Fridays will save $11,000. Eliminating a police officer means a savings of $166,000.

The options before the council will be considered in addition to $2.3 million in cuts already approved in January.

Of those cuts, $1.6 million came from delaying capital improvement projects. More than $700,000 will come from reducing operating expenses, downgrading vacant positions, transferring salaries to enterprise funds, re-bidding or delaying some purchases, reducing staffing on one fire truck from four to three, closing the main library two hours early on Friday evenings, eliminating a vacant police officer position beginning in May and eliminating funds for council studies.

A majority of the savings will come from delaying the following projects: The Marsten Pump Station outfall line, Easton Creek box culvert, increasing access to City Hall for those with disabilities, replacing the cooling tower at City Hall, replacing the library carpet and synthetic turf at Bayside Park.

Many of these projects could be funded if the city is successful in its effort to pass an annual storm drain fee. The proposed fee — which could cost anywhere from $116 to $2,060 but averages $150 per household — will go before Burlingame property owners in May in hopes of raising $39 million for capital improvements.

Without the fee passing, Burlingame will be faced with further cuts, Keighran said.

A number of potential revenue-generating ideas, totaling $479,000, were also approved including: Shifting $200,000 of construction and demolition fees to the general fund; $5,000 from a $2 increase in cost to classes; $3,000 from extending the recreation building rental hours; $180,000 from increasing parking fines, which the council previously approved; and $90,000 from red light tickets from a yet-to-be installed camera at Broadway and El Camino Real. These approved items will continue into the next year increasing the revenue collected since it will be in effect for the full budget cycle.

In the upcoming fiscal year, the city will also look at increasing block party permits from $50 to $150, creating an annual encroachment permit for restaurants with outdoor seating slated to generate $15,000 annually and increasing Hillsborough’s contribution for the libraries by 10 percent or $50,000.

The council meets 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25 at the Recreation Center, 850 Burlingame Ave.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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