As Riverside city officials have appeared at community meetings to explain the new two-year budget, they’ve also delivered some bad news: addressing a projected $10 million to $12 million gap next year will mean cuts to city services.
Those numbers could change, and officials aren’t yet sure how the cuts will affect residents or city workers. But City Manager John Russo said every department has been asked to make sacrifices – even public safety, which is usually the last area touched in hard times.
“This is a real, endemic shortfall,” Russo said. “This is not a one-time shortfall, and we need to fix it now while the economy is in decent shape.”
Now come the politics, and with the new administration’s emphasis on transparency, they’re likely to play out in public.
The council will hear about specific spending proposals at meetings in April and May. And Russo soon will poll residents about which services they most value and what sort of tax measure they might support to pay for them.
City officials announced in February that Riverside faced an $8 million deficit at the end of this fiscal year. They blamed inaccurate revenue forecasts, extra midyear spending and a failure to budget money for a pending police contract.
In fiscal 2017 and 2018, Russo wants to spend at least $10 million less than the council approved for this year’s general fund budget, which was about $256.6 million.
“I think people should be prepared for visible cuts to service,” Russo said, adding that his administration will make a proposal but that it will be up to the council to decide.
Russo hopes he doesn’t have to lay off employees, but it’s not ruled out, he said.
Russo and the council may face pressure from city employee unions.
Members of the Riverside City Firefighters Association are already concerned, President Tim Strack said. The Fire Department’s share of the budget cut comes to about 4 percent, which means “substantial service cuts that could include the closure of a fire station,” he said. The city has 14 fire stations.
Strack said he understands the city is in financial straits, but he added, “This is a rush to close the gap when (we’re looking) towards longer-term planning to fix the problem.”
Along with a two-year budget, Russo will be presenting a five-year financial forecast to the council in June.