After being deadlocked for several meetings over whether to make budget cuts and how to allocate the nearly $33 million the City has received in federal relief funds (from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA), a 3-2 Council majority (Zahra and Silva “no”) finally voted after 1am on Wednesday, December 8 to make 2.5% across-the-board budget cuts, and to use nearly $12 million of the relief funds to backfill government operations. This leaves $20.8 million for non-budgeted projects and programs.
The chosen budget scenario would leave a contingency reserve of around 17 percent.
City staff has not yet calculated a breakdown of how a 2.5% cut would impact staffing levels, but at an earlier study session, they estimated the impact of a 2% cut, which would be a reduction of 14 positions: six police, five fire, one administrative services, one library, 0.7 from community and economic development, and 0.5 from the City Clerk’s office.
The report states that these cuts, on top of current vacancies, would result in “significant negative impact on city service levels.”
This would be in addition to 37 positions already being held vacant, for a savings of $3.8 million annually. However, according to Acting City Manager Steve Danley, there are actually 110 additional vacancies on top of this 37.
According to a staff report, these cuts could also involve reductions in City services and programs, including closing Independence Park gym and racquetball building, eliminating the First Night in Fullerton event, the Fishing Derby, and the Tree Lighting Ceremony.
Councilmembers Jesus Silva and Ahmad Zahra did not support the 2.5% cut, citing the fact that city staff has already been diminished over the last year.
During the pandemic, the City laid off over 150 non-regular (part-time) employees and seven full-time employees. Many city departments lack a permanent head and are being run by interim or acting directors. This includes the City Manager, Parks and Rec, and Community and Economic Development.
Mayor Jung, Mayor Pro Tem Whitaker, and Councilmember Dunlap have consistently cited an ongoing structural budget deficit as the reason for wanting to make cuts. For example, the budget passed in June (prior to using ARPA funds) showed a $10 million deficit. Without using ARPA funds (which are one-time monies), budget projections show Fullerton depleting its reserves by fiscal year 2022/23.
City Council has recently allocated up to $1.3 million of ARPA funds to the Navigation Center for homeless beds for Fullerton residents and $150,000 to the Fullerton Museum Association.
During public comment, some residents and city employees spoke against budget cuts.
Ed Bargas, president of the Fullerton Municipal Employees Federation, said, “We maintain the parks, libraries, city hall, public works, and infrastructure. Please provide more revenue for us to keep up the services to the city.”
In January 2022, staff will return to Council to request they choose how to spend (which specific projects/programs) the $20.8M ARPA funds.
In February 2022, staff will return to Council with proposals and recommendations regarding how to specifically make the 2.5% cuts, whether it be operating expenditures and/or positions.
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