It's not quite a balanced budget and it's not quite unanimous, but after weeks of pressure the City Council reached a milestone Monday when it passed a cuts package that will be presented to the court as part of the city's bankruptcy filing.
The plan, which cuts $26 million and defers nearly $35 million in payments, passed 5-2 after pleas for unanimous passage by City Attorney James F. Penman and Mayor Pat Morris, frequent adversaries.
"The people of San Bernardino are appealing to your patriotism, not to country but to city," Penman told council members, predicting tough legal fights against creditors who would argue a divided City Council wasn't committed to fixing a budget deficiency of $52.4 million. "The court, quite frankly, is not going to let us go forward if we don't have that resolve."
A 4-3 vote could demonstrate some commitment, but the closer council members are to speaking with one voice the better, Penman said.
But some cuts in the plan -- particularly funding only 260 officer positions, compared to a peak of 350 and a current force of 268 -- were unacceptable given high crime levels, said Councilmen Chas Kelley and John Valdivia, who cast the two dissenting votes.
The police cuts wouldn't involve layoffs. But as long as at least 260 officers remain, departing officers' positions will be unfunded -- one of several changes in wording from last week's version, which said vacant positions would be "eliminated."
"When we make those cuts, we're jeopardizing the safety of the residents and we're jeopardizing the safety of the men and women in public safety, and that's irresponsible," Kelley said.
Instead, the plan needed to include cuts to top administrators, involve more public input and include a plan for economic development and more middle-class homeowners.
"How are we going to keep ourselves from going back to bankruptcy court without those changes?" Kelley asked.
Councilwoman Wendy McCammack said revenue generation was important and was mentioned in the plan as a future possibility, but creditors would tear apart a plan that depended on taxes that might not materialize. If that happened, she said, the city might be found ineligible for bankruptcy protection and forced to dissolve.
She and Councilman Robert Jenkins both referred to the vote as "holding (their) nose."
"This is not a perfect plan -- it isn't," Jenkins said. "Unfortunately, a lot of the plan is on the back of our employees, and that I don't like."
Another controversial measure was increased employee pension payments -- meaning smaller take-home pay -- for police, fire and other employees.
The package is known as a pendency plan because it will guide the city's spending during its bankruptcy. A traditional line-item budget will follow that and may include small changes.
"I'm talking $1, $5," said Interim City Manager Andrea Travis-Miller.
As part of Monday's vote, the council also decided to have monthly meetings on the city's actions relative to a budget stabilization plan presented July 9. That plan was the basis of the pre-pendency plan passed in September and the pendency plan.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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