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In an unparalleled move, the Sacramento City Council voted Tuesday night to move forward with cuts that will drastically change the scope of its public safety departments. Eighty sworn officers are on the chopping block, and there is a plan to brownout four fire stations on a rotating basis.
“I said in January there would be a day of reckoning,” Councilmember Kevin McCarty told the packed council chambers. “Today is that day.”
After the council meeting, I spoke briefly with McCarty to get his thoughts on the night’s historic events.
Isaac Gonzalez: You didn’t agree with Councilmember Cohn’s idea to add ask for concessions from the Police and Fire Departments and to match those amounts with one-time funding. (1)
Kevin McCarty: I agree we should try to put more money in, but taking it from our reserve just put us in a precarious financial situation, and it wasn’t the most prudent thing to do. But I do hope that we can use the fire and police’s concessions to buy down some of their effects.
Fire, I said earlier, they have a lot of stuff on the table. (A) measure by (State Assemblyman) Dr. Pan could bring in $1 or $2 million by mid-year. Right now they have two brownouts. We’re proposing to go to four. For fire, for example, each brownout is 1.4 million, so 3 and a half (million) would cover two brownouts. So if they do a concession, let’s say, of $1.5 million, and we get a million and half from this measure, we could go back to two within a year. So there’s a path to get there, with those revenues. But the answer to the question, I just didn’t think it’s the prudent thing to do.
IG: With the $4 million reserve currently, that would only cover two weeks of payroll. That’s a very slim margin.
KM: That’s a 4 percent reserve. It’s dangerously low.
IG: And with the city’s practice of borrowing money and lending it every night…(2)
KM: You can go back and ask our treasurer. He did a report three or four weeks ago how it just puts us in a difficult, very tough position.
IG: Tonight you talked about keeping the city swimming pools open this year but maybe not for next year.
KM: I think that we decided that we would have a commitment to do it. We don’t have to deal with that problem today. Bottom line, I think the council is committed to keeping the keeping the pools open, but the decision was [not?] necessary to make, not today. The pools are tricky in the summer, the middle of the budget year. We have enough money from last year’s budget to keep the pools open this year.
IG: A lot of passionate people here tonight, a very passionate debate. It must be hard to see people whose responsibility it is to protect the city to ask for council not to cut to the bone.
KM: Well, the math really speaks for itself. There’s only so much you can do. When you spend, for example, on public safety — as much as it pains me to make these tough cuts, public safety makes up as much as 85 percent of our general fund. You can’t bridge a $39 million gap by not taking a look at that 85 percent. It’s very difficult and painful, but I think the math speaks for itself.
IG: I think in past years council has dipped into the one-time funds and also eliminated vacant positions, and now that we’re past that…
KM: We’ve essentially cut to the bone and now all there was is amputations. That’s what we had to do. Some people say that we need to make sure public safety is our top priority. I would argue that they are. They’ve become even more of a priority. In 2008 public safety received 73 percent of the budget. Now they receive 85 percent of the budget, so they’ve actually gone up in that direction.
IG: Thank you, Councilmember.
KM: OK, thank you.
(1) Cohn proposed enticing the Police and Fire Departments to make labor concessions by offering additional budget funding in match amounts, up to $2.5 million and $1.5 million, respectively. The motion was rejected by the council.
(2) An example of how the city invests and borrows money on the long and short term can be found here: http://www.cityofsacramento.org/treasurer/Investment/Monthly%20Investment%20Report_April2011.pdf