At the May 27 Yucaipa City Council meeting a review of the fiscal year (FY) budget options for 2020 - 2021 was presented for a study session.
In order to mitigate the COVID-19 impacts to the city, staff “froze” six full-time vacant positions, two in Community Services, two in Public Works, one in Planning and one in Finance, and reduced the vast majority of temporary staff. Also “frozen” were several General Fund Service Level Options. These mitigation efforts will carry forward to next fiscal year with a few other recommended reductions in the City Hall portion of the budget to offset the Public Safety and COVID-19 impacts to the budget.
With some reallocation of current staffing in the Community Services Department (CSD), the limiting of programming anticipated through the summer and fall due to COVID-19 guideline limitations, operate adequately with the two “frozen” positions in the Department. Staff also recommends that the Planning, Engineering, and Finance positions remain “frozen” through this fiscal year. There will be some impact on land development and capital improvement projects delivery associated with these “frozen” positions, and some additional contract services required at times throughout FY 20/21.
“I want to start out by saying that I appreciate the flexibility afforded staff in lowering the mandatory unassigned fund balance level from 30% to 20% and the directions received from the City Council at our last Budget Study Session,” said City Manager Ray Casey.
Casey went on to say, “However, at the very least I think it is incumbent upon us to have a plan for limiting the use of fund balance funds to balance our budget this coming fiscal year and working our way back to a balanced budget again as soon as possible. I also know these are difficult decisions to make and these are difficult times. As the public has heard a number of times, we have a growing Public Safety budgetary imbalance with costs rising at 5-6% per year and revenues, pre-Coronavirus forecast, to increase at about 3% annually. With the Coronavirus recession those forecasts have been lowered to around 2% or less. We have discussed a number of options to lowering Public Safety costs, all of which reduce current levels of services which is difficult for all of us. I would add eliminating admin support to that at about $20k/yr. Before we discuss the rest of the General Fund Budget, I have asked the Fire Chief and the Police Chief both to summarize the options we have discussed for mitigating the Public Safety Budgetary imbalance, the pros and cons and where we are today.”
Yucaipa Fire Chief Grant Malinowski said, “When you look at any cost reduction it all ties back into capital items or staffing. The two options that were brought up were to reduce Station 2 to a paramedic squad and that would imply dropping a fire engine six days a week. A more service stance on reducing staffing would be to drop an entire shift so we would have one engine reduced three days a week and then three days a week there would be two engines in the city, which would be the more aggressive of the two (options).”
A rolling brown-out is another method of reducing personnel costs similar to “browning out” or completely closing a fire station. In Yucaipa, the overall impact would periodically reduce 1/3 of the available fire and paramedic resources and operational staff.
The fire department is looking at the feasibility of non-resident paramedic fees and working on an agreement with Crafton Hills College for an institutional service agreement which will help offset some training costs.
Councilmember Dick Riddell said, “At the last council meeting when it was suggested that we convert Fire Station 2 into a paramedic station, that was voted down by the council. It was determined that leaving this station open as a full service station was very important.”
He continued to say, “One of the things that we discussed is that we reduced emergency fund in the budget from 30% to 20% and that will actually save a lot of money. In looking at the suggested savings (in the agenda packet), I’m in favor of all of them. The rolling brown-outs would keep Fire Station 2 out of service maybe one day a week. On the non-resident paramedic fee, I’m very much in favor of that too. I think they have this in some cities … a medical plan would pay for a non-resident paramedic fee … Delaying the purchase of the next fire engine by three years, is a good suggestion too and that is very viable … The items listed (in the agenda) would be a savings of over $1 million dollars. That still leaves a remaining shortfall of $429,000 but I think cutting the emergency fund 30% to 20% should cover that. I think these suggestions would keep us in good shape for a while … Public Safety is the number one priority of every single councilmember and it is the number one priority of every resident,” said Riddell.
Yucaipa Police Captain James Williams said, “Regarding the Police Department, the equipment is not really that expensive so cutting patrol cars is not going to save that much.”
Williams continued with, “The money is in salaries and we talked about cutting a Deputy Sheriff position, however that directly impacts the response time and basic safety in town. We have minimum staffing with three deputy sheriffs and a sergeant, 24 hours a day, seven days a week … I would never want to go below that minimum staffing for the level of activity that occurs in the city. You have to figure out which one of the specialty positions you are going to cut, where are we going to move that work-load on to patrol and have the capability of handling the calls for service, direct 911 calls and dealing with some of the other stuff that has to get done.”
“We probably could afford a cut with our Sheriff Service Specialists positions which take non-suspect involved reports and process crime scenes … We have already cut one service specialist position. That leaves us with two of those positions, one is in the evidence room which you can’t do without and the other one deals with a lot of the projects in cooperation with other city agencies with meetings and outreach,” said Williams.
Casey said, “Now in the rest of the General Fund Budget, staff has listed some of the reductions already in the draft Budget. If approved, those still leave a $500,000 short fall. We have discussed options for reducing or eliminating that short fall in the staff report and I can briefly go through those. I have also added some information regarding anticipated revenue increases as a result of some of the larger projects currently going through the building plan check process in Yucaipa as a best-case scenario. That illustrates that even under the best-case scenario, it is not likely to be enough to dig us out of these budget challenges over the next several years and certainly not for this coming fiscal year, but these economic initiatives will certainly help. Finally, staff will return to council regarding the revenue enhancement alternatives based on the direction received at the last meeting, but I did not bring up the potential for fulfillment center development. There is some interest in that from the development community at this time and there is still time to put a measure on the ballot for a directed sales tax, paramedic assessment, or a TOT (Transient and Occupancy Tax).”
Staff will return to council at the next meeting with a draft budget based on council’s input.
Supporting documents are available for public view on the city of Yucaipa website at yucaipa.org.