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City approves budget with deeper cuts
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Members of the Ceres City Council approved the 2009-10 budget Monday evening, happy that police and fire personnel layoffs were avoided but heavy-hearted about other deep cuts.

One casualty of the budget action was the elimination of Doug Lemcke's position of director of Parks, Recreation and Facilities. The layoff came ironically on the council's first meeting in the new Ceres Community Center - a project which Lemcke worked diligently on from its inception.

"This was horrible," said Mayor Anthony Cannella after the meeting.

The General Fund of the city budget projects revenues of $15.1 million - a decrease of $1.9 million from the prior year's budget. Revenues are down considerably in property and sales taxes, building permit revenues and investment earnings.

Expenditures paid out of the general fund are projected to be $17.4 million.

At the June 8 Study Session, the council learned that it had more slashing to do in order to balance the budget and avoid a $2.28 million deficit. The council immediately eliminated jobs that were filled by Human Resources Manager Keith Howes, Administrative Services Director Sarah Ragsdale and Executive Secretary Kathy Holloway, who also served as deputy city clerk.

The city was unable, after a month of negotiations with employee unions, to win concessions that included pay cuts. Cannella said the council ran out of time since it was determined to have a budget adopted by June 29. However, Cannella said the negotiations will continue for possible cuts this year if the state raids city coffers.

On Monday Mayor Anthony Cannella recommended these actions to inflict further cuts:

• Eliminate Lemcke's position to save $113,000 in the general fund annually;

• Freeze two vacant police positions to save $220,000;

• Freeze salary steps to save $201,000;

• Cut $212,000 from police and fire overtime;

• Cut $115,000 from Information Technology cuts;

• Eliminating a facilities maintenance supervisor and two maintenance worker aides;

The remaining deficit of $1.072 million will be made up by dipping into reserves. But the council made it clear that it wants to maintain a minimum of a reserve level equal to 25 percent of expenditures.

City Manager Brad Kilger said he's taking a voluntary five percent pay cut as of today.

Cannella told a packed house of city employees that the council's priority has always been keeping sworn police and fire and that most of the 15 layoffs were that of managers.

City officials say the budget picture could grow darker in the coming months. A number of proposals in Sacramento could result in the state taking more revenue from the city. Proposals include borrowing $525,000 in property tax, a $1.2 million take in Highway User Tax revenues and a three-year take of redevelopment funds totaling $1.4 million.

Ceres' budget problems are also being impacted by the county's expectation that the city contribute toward the cost of the new Animal Shelter. The city's contribution to the shelter could cost $320,000.

The city may be on the hook to contribute $1.2 million for the Stanislaus County Employee's Retirement Association (StanCERA), which took a hit from investment losses.

Most cities are a member of the PERS retirement system but Ceres belongs to StanCERA. City officials are hoping that StanCERA's losses can be feathered out over a number of years so that Ceres doesn't have to come up with the entire amount in one year, said Kilger.

Councilman Bret Durossette said he's grateful that the city was able to spare police and fire.

"I'm crossing my fingers and hoping next year will be in a different light," he said.

Councilman Guillermo Ochoa said he sympathizes with those who have been issued layoff notices as he lost his private sector job in September. He lamented the city having to make "very, very tough decisions."

The city is projecting a continuation of budget problems and expects a $4.5 million deficit over the next five years.