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Giving back to the City Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Sep 25 2010 12:00 PM

Chula Vista's mayor, City Council and the city's executive staff agreed to voluntarily pay the employee share of their California Public Employee's Retirement System plan no later than January 2011.

The contribution will generate about $850,000 and be subtracted from the city's current $12.5 million deficit projected for 2011.

However, the forecasted deficit does not include the potential loss of the city's telecommunications users' tax.

The Prop. H initiative modernizes TUT language to include technology such as cell phones and skyping that could secure about $5.6 million annually and would be used to continue providing city services such as libraries, parks and recreation as well as police and fire services.

Mayor Cheryl Cox said she wants to fix the pension issue once and for all.

"When we went first, it wasn't to show we were heroes, it just starts at the top," she said. "We can't raise our taxes without asking people's permission, so it's layoffs or pension payments."

Cox said pension contribution gives the city six months to catch up and by that time the deficit should be down to $11.7 million.

"I think it is a sacrifice," Chula Vista City Manager Jim Sandoval said. "With the cutbacks we've had, we've asked our employees to do more and work harder than ever."

Cox said that pension reform is a direct consequence of the forecasted budget for the 2011/2012 fiscal year.

"Without that understanding from our employees there will be layoffs," she said.

If Prop. H does not pass in November, approximately $6 million will be added to the current deficit, raising it to $18.5 million. If this occurs, more than 150 positions and services will be cut and entire departments or programs could be eliminated.

"We've been meeting with different department heads in 16-hour meetings and two and a half hour blocks to try to look at ways we can reduce costs," Sandoval said. "This is the third round we've been through as a city and we've already cut $40 million and 250 positions in the last three years."

Cox said there are no one-time revenue sources. "You've got to have a long-term strategic fix and the one that lasts the longest is the employee's contribution," she said.

The mayor did recognize that employee payments could adversely affect government workers.

"You have to balance out what you can't spend money on," she said. "Some people will have to cut back on their savings. It's not just about not going out to dinner or not going shopping, there are potentially major impacts on our on employees."

She added: "If you're making a cut in your take-home pay, it doesn't feel good," Cox said. "If every one of our employees paid their own share of their retirement, we would have no cuts. I don't want to lay off anybody."

Cox said if the city can close the $12.5 million gap with employees paying their full share the city will be able to maintain adequate services at an acceptable level.

"You have to even out the peaks and valleys so the valley isn't so deep and the peaks aren't so high," she said. "You've got to save, spend and give a little."

City staff will present recommendations to the budget at its Oct. 5 council meeting.

If endorsed by council, reductions will begin January next year.

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