How do you cut half a million dollars or more from an already strapped city budget? That’s what the Half Moon Bay City Council is trying to figure out after residents voted down a one-cent sales tax increase.
The council didn’t make specific cuts when it met on Nov. 4 — two days after Measure K failed — but reductions in parks and recreation programs and the potential outsourcing of police services are ideas on the table.
Half Moon Bay is running a $500,000 deficit, even after slashing the budget by about one-fifth from what it was two years ago ($11. 6 million in 2008). According to Interim City Manager Michael Dolder, the deficit could rise to somewhere between $800,000 and $1 million next fiscal year, depending on: whether city employees agree to continue voluntary pay cuts, what happens to revenues, and if the city receives a bill from the CalPERS retirement system.
The police and parks departments have already weathered personnel cuts, with parks and recreation staff declining from four paid positions to 1.2 (two people working at 60 percent). At this point, cutting more positions would leave nobody to maintain parks — and that could mean closing them, said Half Moon Bay Mayor Marina Fraser.
Half Moon Bay recently cut the number of police officers by 20 percent, and is considering outsourcing the remaining services to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department or the neighboring city of Pacifica or San Mateo police forces.
“[Police] are the largest part of any municipal expense, and so we’re gong to have to explore losing policing services,” Fraser said. She added that the sheriff’s department pays higher wages — so if Half Moon Bay chooses the outsourcing option, it will likely have to cut the number of officers covering the area to save money.
According to Fraser, some cuts could take effect by the spring of 2011. Others, such as outsourcing the police department, might require as much as a year to execute.
Leading up to the Nov. 2 election, critics of Measure K suggested that instead of raising the sales tax, the city could make money by selling the Beachwood property it had acquired in an $18 million land-use settlement. But Beachwood is in such poor condition that the current value is less than the city’s purchase price, Dolder said in a recent interview. The city is working to restore the property to increase its value, he said.
The mayor plans to hold a town hall meeting before Dec. 31 to hear more from the community about what reductions the city should make.