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Chula Vista faces $12 million gap Allison K. Sampite | Fri, Aug 20 2010 04:33 PM

The Chula Vista City Council presented the first overview of the 2011-2012 budget Tuesday, in which a $12.5 million budget deficit is forecasted.

In an attempt to turn things around, city officials are preparing for the next fiscal year six months early. Budget balancing options include possible pension reform, franchise fee review, additional program and service reductions and increased outsourcing services.

In 2009 the City Council endorsed the city manager's proposed Chula Vista Fiscal Health Plan, which serves as a blueprint in creating fiscal stability on a long-term basis.

According to City Manager Jim Sandoval, the city has gone through extensive budget reform since 2007, including eliminating 259 permanent full-time positions, reducing hourly staffing by 50 percent, and cutting programs and services across the board.

The Chula Vista Fiscal Health Plan is comprised of four major parts and is an outline designed to move the city back to strong financial standing on a long-term basis. They include expenditure cuts, increasing/protecting revenues, economic development and budget and fiscal reforms.

Members of the council have contributed ideas. Councilman Rudy Ramirez proposed establishing a finance advisory committee and meeting with an executive team to begin addressing the severity of the budget gap.

On Oct. 5, anyone with a vested interest can express concerns and provide solutions in order to keep a balanced budget.

"People are pushing pretty hard to hold things together so that our residents don't see the impact," Sandoval said.

According to Chula Vista's finance director, Maria Kachadoorian, the financial forecast has a lot of major assumptions for 2011-2012 and noted that double-dip recession is a possibility.

"The only way to close the gap is to reduce expenditures or bring revenues back in," she said.

But, she said, since the latter is unlikely, there could be a dramatic impact on public services. Kachadoorian discussed the severity of the city's structural imbalance and proposed that increased contributions on behalf of the city can help meet financial obligations.

"It's a somber but important message," Ramirez said. "It's important for the public to understand that the city has been in a deep financial crisis for the last four years ... it's frightening to think what lies ahead if things don't begin to improve a little bit."

He added: "We will have to deal with reality, and I think tonight was the first dose of reality that we've had in a long time."

The council is trying to look beyond the politics for the day and toward the long-term health of the city.

Police Chief Bejarano said that although the department has been hit hard by the budget cuts, he still feels the Chula Vista Police Department is doing the best they can with minimal resources.

"The department has eliminated 11 peace officer positions and 27 civilian positions," he said.

Bejarano said that it takes the department four minutes and 26 seconds to respond to priority one calls, emergency calls with reason to believe that an immediate threat to life exists.

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