Next City Budget Takes Shape

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City officials are putting the finishing touches on a 2011-12 budget that features some $7.7 million in cuts and revenue enhancements, including elimination of more than 40 full-time positions, contracting with Huntington Beach for police helicopter service, and restructuring the lifeguard department.

“It’s not quite tied with a bow, but it’s close,” said City Manager Dave Kiff on Thursday, after the final City Council study session on the document on Tuesday night.

The council is slated to vote on the final budget at its June 28 meeting, in time for the start of the budget year on July 1.

It will be the third straight year of shrinking budgets in Newport Beach, as the 2009-10 budgets was trimmed of $8.8 million mid-year, in response to the recession, and the 2010-11 budget was adopted with a further $8.7 million in cuts.

Total full-time employees also peaked in 2009-10, at 833. That dropped to 805 in the current year and a proposed 762 for 2011-12.

Most of the personnel reductions were accomplished through attrition, but city officials have said layoffs may be necessary to achieve the 2011-12 level.

Tuesday night, the council was asked to give final direction on what developed into the most contentious issue of the budget cycle: the city’s lifeguard department.

An early proposal to cut the full-time lifeguard staff from 17 to 13 positions drew objections from lifeguard supporters that it would jeopardize public safety. When it came out that the full-time guards, who are primarily managers rather than front-line responders, have total compensation packages of $100,000 to  more than $200,000 annually, it caused a national sensation among budget watchdog groups and small-government advocates.

An alternative proposal that would have trimmed some seasonal positions in favor of retaining some of the full-timers was floated last month, but drew even more criticism.

The lifeguard plan tentatively OK’d by the council Tuesday for incorporation into the final budget document would reduce the full-time positions from 17 to 12, plus a year-round part-time position, for a total of 12.4 full-time equivalents. In addition, $60,000 would be cut from overtime and “call back” allocations, the full-time guards will contribute 9 percent toward their retirement funds, up from 3.5%, and new guards will have a reduced-cost pension plan (2% at 50, vs. 3% at 50 for the current guards).

Overall, Kiff estimates that the changes will save the city $700,000 in the lifeguard department.

The council also gave its nod to a plan to contract with Huntington Beach to provide police helicopter service. The joint helicopter program Newport Beach had been running with Costa Mesa was canceled by Costa Mesa earlier this year. A proposal for a privately run helicopter program did not take off.

The Huntington Beach contract calls for 1,000 hours of service in the fiscal year, at a cost of $700 per hour.


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