At that time, forecasted declines in property tax and sales tax revenues compelled city officials to set two reduction goals: $2.8 million and $5.6 million of total expenditures.
On Tuesday, a more focused and time-sensitive estimate revealed the city’s budget shortfall stood at about $4.6 million.
Consequently, council members directed staff to pursue employee concessions, but even if successful in reaching a desired 6 percent reduction in salaries and benefits, an additional $2.7 million in cuts will be needed to balance the budget.
Several sources have been identified to fill this remaining gap, including the city’s stabilization fund and ending fund balance, which currently hold $1.1 million and $1.6 million, respectively.
While there is no consensus among council members on where cuts are best directed, there is little doubt that each city department will have to contribute to the losses.
A tentative budget draft is expected no later than April 15 with a final budget draft due June 1. In the meantime, council members will study the budget again at a workshop in March. They will consider the following cuts in city departments:
Police Chief Steve Keefer said Tuesday that upward of 18 full-time positions could be eliminated if the department’s share of the $5.6 million budget goal was not trimmed. Of the 18 positions, 10 would be a result of police assistant and patrol officer layoffs.
To reach the lower-end budget goal, eight positions would be eliminated, the majority coming from currently unfilled vacancies.
Council members have stated their opposition to laying off more patrol officers, particularly in light of a failed November ballot initiative seeking to raise sales taxes to support the hiring of additional officers.
In 2010, local engine companies received 450 more calls than the previous year, a volume increase of 5.5 percent. Officials said the weak economy had led to a rise in arsons, many times perpetrated by homeowners engaging in insurance fraud, as well as more health emergencies. Nevertheless, budgets continue to shrink even as firefighters are exceeding their call threshold.
Fire department budget reduction proposals indicate the possibility of one engine company closure, one engine company brownout, up to four firefighter layoffs and personnel rank downgrades.
Like all departments, the city’s finance division has included a 7.5 percent wage and benefit concession from all management personnel — not to be confused with the aforementioned 6 percent concession for all other employees — in its budget reduction summary.
Plans to save an estimated $67,000 and another to save $184,000 have been proposed, with the latter total corresponding with the high-end citywide reduction goal and reflecting an unfilled full-time position resulting from a retirement.
City manager and clerk
City management faces among the fewest cuts largely because it has fewer staff and operating costs than other departments. Only minor service impacts are expected with its contribution to reduction goals.
Though total expenditures decreased from 2010 fiscal year actuals to 2011 estimates, there was an almost 80 percent increase in operating and supply costs within the administrative division.
Assistant City Manager Steve Driscoll said IT upgrades and maintenance done every few years were responsible for a significant increase in costs this year.
Several other departments also increased their expenditures on operating, service and supplies costs during the current fiscal year.
The administrative division has proposed eliminating travel expense accounts, employee pay incentives and even one full-time position.
“I’m becoming dysfunctional,” City Attorney Chet Adams said by way of addressing how budget cuts are affecting his office.
A senior assistant city attorney recently retired and Adams believes that reductions in funding will force him into the unfortunate choice between filling that position in order to handle an already burdensome criminal caseload or sacrificing his office’s victim-witness advocate, a position he called vital.
To meet its share of the $5.6 million goal, the municipal court has proposed eliminating one marshal from duty, which Judge Barbara McCarthy said will have a direct affect on warrant services, timely enforcement of judicial orders and resolution of cases, an increase in jail population and possible Constitutional requirements.
Consolidating the municipal court with the Sparks Justice Court, which is funded by Washoe County, was not viable, McCarthy said, even while city officials noted that six of the 12 chartered cities in the state had shared court services.
Consolidation of courts erupts in turf battles over funding, McCarthy said, adding that maintaining separate courts, even at a higher expense, is necessary.
“This is the cost of enforcing the law,” she said.
Though city officials hold their nose when it comes to talks about sharing services between Sparks, Reno and Washoe County, consolidation within the city already has paid off.
As part of the Sparks Sustainable Services Initiative, the Community Development and Public Works departments now exist under the guise of Community Services. Relocating Public Works to city hall will result in some $238,000 in rent and utilities savings in the next fiscal year.
City management and finance staff are reviewing other areas of savings resulting from consolidation in order to cover budget shortfalls.
Parks and Recreation
Proposals to close the swim beach at the Sparks Marina Park, hand off operation of the Larry D. Johnson Community Center to a nonprofit group and eliminate the Lou Mendive Middle School site for programs will produce about $150,000 in savings toward the high-end budget reduction goal.
But Parks and Recreation officials and several council members said they were determined to avoid having to close the swim beach park and slash the accompanying lifeguard program.