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December 23, 2009 > Newark continues discussion of budget-reduction strategies

Newark continues discussion of budget-reduction strategies

By Meenu Gupta

Putting all available options on the table, the City Council held a work session to resume discussion on budget-reduction strategies, on December 17. Mayor Smith describes the closure of a looming $3.4M budget deficit as a "monumental task." After using all of the remaining PERS reserve of $2.8M, the city will be left with just the $6M disaster reserve.

"Cuts will be seen and felt in all parts of the community," said City Manager John Becker.

Reduction of landscape maintenance in parks and throughout the city by Public Works will save $240,000. Such cuts would impact the city aesthetically.

Elimination of non-safety related maintenance of neighborhood parks will help save $50,000. Reduced street-sweeping services are also being considered. A reduction in routine street maintenance, like pot-hole repair, debris removal and sign repair would save $190,000. Moreover, a reduction in the number and size of street maintenance projects and maintenance of city-owned buildings is being considered. Possible delays to implementation of capital projects will mean residents see less mowing, irrigation maintenance, trash removal, graffiti removal and reduction in vandalism repairs, if cuts are implemented.

Recreation and Community Services is responsible for operating the Community Center, Senior Center and Silliman Activity Center. Consolidation of the department's activities and programs is being considered. The Community Center may close except for rentals to save $230,000.

"The center has over 250 bookings a year," said Recreation and Community Services Director, David Zehnder.

Closure of the Senior Center would save $300,000. According to Becker, partial closure, such as opening the senior center three days a week, does not result in savings. Closure of, or reduced opening hours at, the Silliman Center were also considered.

"Programs and events, pre-school program, child-care program and classes will transfer to Silliman Center. Some Senior Center classes and activities will also move there," said Becker.

"Around 48 families want to continue child-care programs; parents have even accepted a $200 per month increase in fees and will transition from part-time to full time. We hope this consolidation with the Silliman Activity Center is temporary. It might be less convenient but it will work," said Zehnder.

"Newark Paratransit Program is not part of this reduction. It is funded by Measure B," clarified Becker. "The city will save approximately $500,000, if we close Silliman Activity Center but we don't see that as a viable option, hence we're not considering it. We'll look at reducing hours. Closure for a significant number of days will merely alienate pass holders, so is not recommended."

Elimination of funding for the Ash Street Summer program would save $43,000. According to Becker, a fee of $200 per child would be necessary to sustain the program. Such a fee is not considered viable.

Funding for Second Chance, the city's only homeless center, may be eliminated, saving $20,000.

"Ash Street program is vital. We'd like to offer our expertise. From a non-profit's viewpoint, it won't cost $43,000 to run the park," Shirley Sisk, League of Volunteers, in response to the discussion.

Members of the Senior Center expressed concern about the facility's prospective closure. The Center provides information related to tax and insurance, addresses their medical needs and is the venue for classes.

"By removing the Senior Center, you'll remove the safety net for Newark's seniors," said Senior Center Supervisor, Margrith Reichmuth.

General city services will not escape cuts. Code enforcement will see a budget reduction of $100,000. Elimination of the city's $73,000 subsidy for the library to open for 4.5 hours on Sundays would see the facility close on Sunday.

"I don't believe 211 will disappear, if they don't receive $15,000," said Becker when considering elimination of funding for Eden Information & Referral.

The city's contract with its federal lobbyist will be reduced or eliminated. Charges for Newark Days service may increase. Reductions in support services, such as human resources, finance, information systems and administrative staffing would shorten office hours for serving the public.

According to Assistant City Manager Dennis Jones, even with all these substantial cuts, the budget deficit is far from settled and more cuts will have to be made. The next budget work session will be held on Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

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