View Full Version : Money trouble in Surf City

12-05-2008, 01:40 PM

Santa Cruz faces major cuts, layoffs, closures as leaders try to close $7 million deficit
By Genevieve Bookwalter

Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 12/05/2008 07:59:47 AM PST

SANTA CRUZ Close the Beach Flats Community Center. Close the Harvey West Pool. Close the Museum of Natural History and the Surfing Museum. :eek: Lay off more than 13 full-time workers. Cut work weeks from 40 to 36 hours for those who are left.

These are some of the cuts city leaders could make Tuesday as they grapple with a $7 million deficit in their $181 million budget a deficit much worse than what was predicted just five months ago.

As a result, the proposed cuts are "not a negotiation game. It's an emergency response to our bleeding cash out of here at a pace that we can't sustain. That's the way people have to look at it," City Manager Dick Wilson said.

Santa Cruz leaders are desperately looking for ways to trim another $4.2 million from the budget after cutting $2.8 million last month. November's cuts eliminated open positions and cut smaller items from department budgets. But "the next set of cuts will be extremely painful for those employees that are affected, as well as for residents that receive those services," reads the staff report for Tuesday's meeting.

The quick and drastic measures are an about-face from the city's original plans in June, when the deficit was $5 million and voters had not yet shot down a 911 phone line tax. Leaders then agreed to make a smaller set of cuts in November and re-examine the budget next year.

But residents in August voted against a 911 tax that would have generated $1.3 million for the city, and the failing economy has since driven the deficit higher.

Now, the museum, pool and other closures could happen as soon as February, according to the city report. Santa Cruz leaders also will be talking to union negotiators about eliminating raises and having employees pay more into their retirement pension accounts. City managers already have turned down cost-of-living raises this year.

These cuts might not be the last, either. If the economy continues to worsen, more closures and layoffs could be necessary, Wilson wrote.

Jenifer Lienau Thompson, who oversees the Museum of Natural History and the Surfing Museum, said she already is thinking about where collections could be safely stored if the museums close.

"We provide a big service, and I think it's going to be a loss for the whole community," Lienau Thompson said.

Last year, 35,000 visitors toured the Surfing Museum and 15,000 stopped by the Natural History Museum.

Jesse Shank, who has helped staff the Surfing Museum for the past 15 years, said he is scared of losing his job. He plans to attend Tuesday's meeting.

"We're Surf City, so I believe we should keep the museum," Shank said.

Mayor Ryan Coonerty declined to comment on specific cuts Thursday, but did not mask the gravity of the situation.

"Seven million dollars out of our general fund is an extraordinary amount," Coonerty said. "That puts almost everything in Parks and Recreation on the block, and there are going to be very difficult cuts."