Paso considers financial future

Department heads present wish lists for funding as the city projects revenue gains through the next five years

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comFebruary 11, 2012 

With growing revenues projected for coming years, the city of Paso Robles hopes to begin rebuilding after years of cuts, and it may infuse this growth with an increased sales tax.

Rosy projections show the general fund could gain approximately $1.3 million in revenue through the next five years.

And these meager increases could be buttressed by raising the sales tax by 1 percent, which would generate about $6.3 million annually, officials said, an idea that may be put on the ballot in November.

The new revenue projections, which prompted a study session Saturday on how to rebuild city services, were a beacon of hope to many after the city cut more than $7 million in spending annually since 2009 and decreased its overall workforce by 35 percent through attrition and a hiring freeze.

The deep cutbacks have left noticeable marks on the community: Minimal staffing levels in police, fire and other departments have resulted in service cuts; a shuttered city pool and shabbier local streets are some examples.

The city’s seven department executives presented overviews on their cuts and provided wish lists for rebuilding Saturday.

Police hope for $950,000 for hiring in their patrol and detective bureaus. They would also like to start a gang and narcotics team. Emergency Services — firefighters and paramedics — requested $35,000 in immediate training needs but said they need to hire seven additional firefighters and add new training and disaster preparedness at $380,000. Public Works, which has seen a 49 percent cut in staff since 2009, would like more maintenance dollars for roads and public facilities. About $200,000 could restore key janitorial service losses. But bringing roads up to a favorable condition would be a one-time payment of $80 million, plus an additional $3.2 million in annual upkeep thereafter. Library and recreation saw a 45 percent reduction in staffing, outsourced its sports programs and closed Centennial Pool.

Resident Joe Friedling suggested charging monthly memberships to reopen the pool.

“It’s a slap in the face to the community that this beautiful facility isn’t open,” he told The Tribune.

Establishing a coffee bar in the library and recruiting more volunteers citywide, such as utility billing clerks, were other ideas raised to help the city become more sustainable.

Citizens voiced their concerns about cuts in library services, recreation, police, fire and roads, although there was no overwhelming consensus targeting a single area among the 40 people in attendance. The City Council will seek additional public feedback in the coming months before a plan is made.

“I don’t have a list of priorities because they all impact public safety, quality of life and infrastructure. And we need money for it all,” said Planning Commission Chairman Al Garcia, who spoke as a resident.

Sewer and water services were also important, residents said, but those come from utility funds outside the city’s general fund, which the discussion focused on.

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