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Paso Robles may make more budget cuts

Middle school teens looking for a casual place to hang out after school and families seeking a cool refuge from Paso Robles’ 100-degree summer days could be the latest casualties in the city’s ongoing budget cuts.

Despite deep staff cuts in recent years — 30 percent over the past three years — Paso Robles is facing a projected $6.1 million revenue shortfall through 2015, according to a report expected to go before the City Council tonight.

The deficit, which was caused mainly by dips in sales and property tax revenues, has forced the city to cut from its general budget, which funds services such as police, parks and fire.

Despite the deficit, the city has $10.4 million in reserves to cushion its loss of income. But several factors, including an ongoing water lawsuit, puts that cushion at risk.

Mayor Duane Picanco doesn’t think the council will vote on any cuts tonight.

“They’re just throwing everything out there for the council to digest and see what people want,” he said of city staff.

Also on the list are potential cuts to youth and adult sports and city marketing as well as possibly axing funds for a YMCA teen center.

A draft of the city’s final 2011-12 budget is set to go before the council by June.

Centennial Pool

One option to help reverse the city’s budget problems would be to close the Centennial Pool on the city’s east side to save $112,00 annually. The 200,000-gallon pool, open in the summer, offers swimming and aquatic programs for youths and adults.

“Closing the pool is a big concern,” Shelly Dargatz, North County regional director of the San Luis Obispo County YMCA. “We run summer day camps, and those use the pool all summer.”

YMCA uses the Centennial Pool for about 90 summer camp kids. Lewis Middle School students also use the pool for about six weeks in the spring.

The city also has the Municipal Pool on the city’s west side for programs, such as high school aquatics; that facility has not been put forward as a potential cut.

Teen Xtreme

The Teen Xtreme after-school program, run by the YMCA but paid for by the city, has been around for at least a decade.

Likened to a teen center, up to 30 middle schoolers and some high schoolers fill the center at Centennial Park each weekday to play video games, have a snack and “drop in and hang out,” Dargatz said. She’s unsure whether the YMCA would be able to keep it open without the city’s help.

The $28,000 annual program, free to parents, is designed to give youths a positive place to go so they don’t make poor choices, Dargatz said. It also runs organized activities for the teens.

Dargatz suspects that the city could cut its funding because another after-school program exists at Lewis and Flamson middle schools. Those grant-funded programs are more structured, with allotted homework time, Dargatz said, so youths who choose Teen Xtreme may not like it as much. “But they’re welcome and there’s room for them,” she said.

Outlook

If the city doesn’t get citizen approval of new water rates by 2014, its water fund, which users pay into, will run out of money in 2014. That leaves a $5.2 million annual bill from the Nacimiento Water Project to be paid from the city’s general fund. The group Concerned Citizens of Paso Robles has led numerous protests over the city increasing rates. A new rate proposal is slated to come out this year.

And, if a lawsuit against past water and sewer rates from 2002 and 2004 succeeds in court, an undetermined amount — perhaps millions of dollars — would need to be refunded to ratepayers. That would accelerate the date when the water fund would run out of money, city staff said.

Dealing with Paso's budget issues

Some options to cut include:

Reduce marketing services

Outsource adult and youth sports

Transfer Oak Park After School Program to the Paso Robles Housing Authority

Stop funding the “Teen Xtreme” after school program through YMCA

Close Centennial Pool

Some options to raise public fees:

Add a class fee

Increase library fines

Increase tournament fees

City staff positions already cut over the past three years through attrition and early retirement:

City Manager’s office: 29 percent

Administrative services: 17 percent

Community development: 33 percent

Fire department: 21 percent

Library and recreation services: 25 percent

Police: 29 percent

Public works: 37 percent

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