Chula Vista City Manager David Garcia will present his recommendations to cut $10.3 million from the city’s operating budget for FY08-09 to the City Council Thursday.

Over the last fiscal year, Chula Vista has cut 10 percent of its existing operating budget and proposes to cut another 10 percent because of the city’s deteriorating financial condition.

“We’ve made all the easy cuts,” said Garcia. “What we’re faced with now are very difficult program cuts.”

When discussing the cuts with the heads of each of the city’s departments, Garcia gave four guidelines:

  • to reduce management positions;
  • to reduce nonessential or hourly workers;
  • to reduce developmental services;
  • and to minimize the direct impact on residents.

The department that was most creative with their cuts, Garcia said, was the library department, which cut its budget by 7 percent but, under the plan, would be able to reinstate eight operating hours.

Every department has made budget cuts. The largest proposed cuts — 11 percent — were in both the administrative department and the nature center. The smallest cuts were in the recreational department (5 percent), the police department (3 percent) and public works (2 percent).

Garcia has 120 different budget cuts to propose as part of his balanced budget tomorrow. One of his largest is an early retirement program. He also plans to eliminate funding to outside agencies (cutting funding to the downtown business district would save $80,000) and to eliminate pay increases to management employees (saving $1.4 million).

An employee recommendation, which the City Council doesn’t support, is to only turn on one of the two lights on streetlamps at a time, saving $150,000 in utility bills.

The most controversial of his proposed budget cuts is to eliminate three battalion chiefs from the fire department. Currently, Chula Vista has two battalion chiefs on duty at all times — one for the east and west sides of town. There is a different battalion chief to work both positions for three shifts. Garcia wants to cover the city with one. Therefore, by combining the battalion chief’s job to cover the entire city, three battalion chiefs will be demoted under the plan.

Also, Chula Vista wishes to reduce the money spent on firefighter overtime. In FY07, the city spent $3 million on firefighter overtime. The city manager proposes to do this by making one fire engine, at Fire Station 7, a reserve company so that the firefighters working that engine can fill in vacancies rather than calling firefighters in to pay them overtime when someone goes on vacation. That move would save the city $740,000.

Garcia expects strong opposition from the fire department because the average firefighter in Chula Vista makes $21,000 in overtime on top of his or her salary per year.

If the City Council doesn’t accept the cuts, Garcia has back-up options, such as cutting uniformed police officers or tree-trimmers, but those alternatives are “much more dire” because of the direct impact on the community.

Even though the city’s credit has been downgraded over the last two years, Chula Vista is still viable for borrowing money, so Garcia says that they differ from the city of San Diego because their “outlook is still strong.”

“I’ve said that we led San Diego County into this recession,” said Garcia, “and I think we’re going to lead them out of it.”

Update: This post has been updated to correctly reflect the average firefighters’ overtime salary. Chula Vista officials had originally offered an incorrect estimate.

— BETHANY LEACH

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