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City department head sent home due to budget woes
A key department head is the latest casualty of budget-slashing measures at Ceres City Hall.

Ken Craig, the city's director of Planning and Community Development, has been issued a pink slip. Craig is the highest ranking official so far to be terminated and the second for the department. In February the city issued layoff notices to Planning Manager Barry Siebe and 10 other employees to pare over $1 million from the current year's budget.

Craig had been with the city of Ceres since August 2006 as a replacement of Randy Hatch. Eliminating his position saves the city $184,081 annually in salary and benefits.

City Manager Brad Kilger said he decided to eliminate Craig's position since planning activities are at a minimal pace.

"I am looking at reorganizing the various departments in ways that we can potentially save money and now that we've hit a period where there has been a drop-off in development activity, but a significant increase in the need for capital projects .... it was necessary to take action," said Kilger. "None of this is easy."

The remaining planning staff will have to initially pick up the slack, said Kilger. "But is that going to be sufficient? I don't know."

Kilger said the public sector is going through what the private sector has been undergoing for a couple of years. Cities like Ceres are now making sacrifices to continue providing services with less staff.

"While it's our intent to save every position possible, we're in some tough times," said Kilger. He said Ceres is doing better, though, than other cities. Last year the city lopped off $2 million from the budget in anticipation of shrinking revenues but the economy worsened late last year. City officials were sent scrambling on a budget-cutting mode when the county assessor announced that he was going to conduct a second reassessment of properties because of falling home prices which further reduced property values and tax revenues by another 15 percent.

"We're in a very volatile situation financially where we have a looming deficit, where our revenues have dropped very quickly. We have no choice. We have to make budget reductions."

City officials are concerned about potential implications with how the Stanislaus County Employee's Retirement Association (StanCERA) handles its retirement funds. Most cities are a member of the PERS retirement system but Ceres belongs to StanCERA.

The city is also bracing for financial hits from its share of the costs of the new regional Animal Shelter.

Officials statewide are holding their breath over the statewide propositions in the May 19 special election. If the propositions fail Kilger expects state lawmakers to begin raiding the coffers of cities and counties as a state budget fix.

"This is quite a moving target we're dealing with financially. There's a lot of outside forces beyond just our normal revenues that are affecting how we try to budget for the next couple of years."

Currently the city is keeping a watchful eye on revenues on the current budget year, particularly the next sales tax report.

"We are already beginning the process of looking towards next year and what deficits we'll have to deal with," said Kilger.

A public workshop will be offered on the budget.