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Nonprofits pleading for money in Redwood City
July 01, 2010, 01:13 AM By Michelle Durand, Daily Journal Staff
The nonprofits who receive funding from the Redwood City Council took turns before it last night, pleading for precious dollars in danger of elimination as city leaders close a $6.8 million budget deficit.

The City Council is proposing $6.4 million in cuts, with the remainder filled through salary freezes and revenue. As of press time Wednesday, the council hadn't finalized what proposed cuts it wanted added back in but was leaning toward saving two of 41 planned job cuts: a juvenile specialist and community service officer in the police department. The council also debated further cuts from the Civic Cultural Commission to save the $31,960 in nonprofit funding. The council will formally vote on its budget at its July 12 meeting but has met at three study sessions to hear department heads and the public ask them to save what they say are core needs.

Public safety has captured much of the attention and firefighters in particular made arguments Wednesday night of how fewer bodies on engines or closed stations will jeopardize the community.

But the majority of public comment was filled by those speaking on behalf of organizations like Shelter Network or Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse. These groups receive Human Services Financial Assistance funding which was slated for a 15 percent reduction of $31,960. Shelter, food and medical care also fall under the council's priorities of public safety and quality of life, said Lauren Zorfas, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County.

Cori Manthorne, director of programs for CORA emphasized her request by localizing the need -- 32 of the 158 people in the shelter were Redwood City residents; 11 percent of calls for help were from Redwood City.

Laurie Wishard of the county's Family Service Agency said it took over the senior center at the city's request and provides 15,000 meals a year and other care.

"We help people stay healthy," Wishard said.

But with need outweighing dollars, the City Council is forced to leave some requests unfilled and plans to ask staff to prepare a $77.5 million budget that fills the deficit by slashing dozens of jobs from its staff of 560.

The nearly $7 million gap is roughly 8 percent of the city's budget and chalked up to stagnant property and sales tax revenue and increased employee retirement and health costs. Last year's budget was $83.4 million.

Officials are hesitant to use reserves to fill the deficit but want residents to know this means very tangible changes in how they work and live. Cutbacks were proposed in building permit processing and building inspection, one fire engine company, library hours, child care, parks maintenance, traffic safety and street maintenance.

The largest hit is to the police department which will save $2.2 million by eliminating 15 full-time workers, although some said cutting non-sworn personnel will put a larger onus on officers.

The police union has not agreed to concessions but Mike Reynolds, president of the Police Officers Association, said it is "willing to talk about anything to figure out the options" and is working on ways to re-open its contract.

After Reynolds said they took salary freezes in 2006 and 2009, Mayor Jeff Ira reminded him that other unions acted unconditionally.

Firefighter Justin Velasquez urged the City Council to step away from its policy of using the utility users tax for capital improvements and instead funnel the funds into keeping engines staffed and stations opened.

Citizens don't want to know their public safety is jeopardized because of sidewalk repair, Velasquez said.

The Fire Department has 59 firefighters and captains but an ideal staff would have six more, said Fire Chief Jim Skinner.

After nearly two hours of final pitches, the City Council knuckled down to reconcile $475,543 of potential add-back items with an estimated $338,500 in available funds from the SEIU salary freeze, tree preservation permits and parking meter rate hike.

The council's budget direction came on the eve of the new fiscal year which begins today.

Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.


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