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Light at end of gloomy economic tunnel Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Mar 05 2011 12:00 PM

Chula Vista city officials said Monday that they are close to balancing the city's 2011-12 budget.

Last October City Council was presented with City Manager Jim Sandoval's budget reduction plan to address the city's $12.5 million deficit.

The deficit climbed to $18.5 after the loss of revenues associated with the defeat of Prop. H, the city's telecommunication users tax.

The plan included comprehensive pension reform for all city employees, including five labor unions. Since October, there have been some 88 layoffs and dramatic cuts to public services.

"The budget's been cut about $17 million," Finance Director Maria Kachadoorian said. "That includes pension contributions, personnel reductions and cuts to services."

According to human resources director Kelley Bacon, past savings based on labor union negotiations equal $5.3 million, while public services cuts such as graffiti abatement and tree trimming saved the city $2.9 million. However, the majority of savings came from eliminating employee positions, saving the city $8.9 million.

Ultimately city officials said some 88 positions were terminated since January. In the last four years the city has had 378 layoffs, according to Bacon.

The only pending layoffs include police.

The Chula Vista Police Officer's Association was the last of five unions to negotiate an agreement to achieve comprehensive pension reform last month.

According to Bacon, the city needs 11 officers to participate in an early retirement incentive, which would allow them two years of additional service credit and yield about $1.65 million.

The layoffs have been delayed until May 9.

"So far we have one," Bacon said. "I think we'll be lucky if we get three."

Bacon's doubt comes from the fact that many of the eligible officers are young.

Bacon said that each officer makes around $150,000 annually, when you take into account salary and benefits.

"That would take care of the budget problem," she said.

"The good news is we're not seeing property or sales tax go backward anymore because of the economy," Kachadoorian said. "At this point we're starting to see some modest recovery in our revenue stream."

A budget workshop will be held April 14. The 2011-12 budget must be balanced and approved by the City Council June 30.

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