City Manager Donna Landeros said Tuesday that the positions eliminated - four building inspectors, one building planner and one park planner - were chosen because they were funded by fees from developers, and the workload in their various departments had been dramatically reduced due to the real-estate downturn. She did not offer specifics as to future layoffs, other than to say that if they are needed, they would also probably be development-related, and that no police positions would be cut.
"I really believe we were prepared for a housing slowdown; we just weren't prepared for a housing melt-down," Landeros said Tuesday. "I don't believe anybody predicted the sub-prime mortgage fiasco. Even six months ago, (people) thought it was going to be OK."
The affected employees were placed on 30-day administrative leave to allow them a chance to secure other jobs without a termination on their record, Landeros said. Each was also offered assistance with job-finding resources and letters of referral, as well an "exit incentive" of 60 days salary in exchange for signing an agreement releasing the city from future liability.
The move comes in the wake of $5 million in mid-year budget cuts reported last week. The layoffs were not part of the budget-cut report, Director of Finance Pam Ehler said, because the administrative leave and severance packages meant there would be no savings before the next budget cycle begins.
Landeros said she had met with groups of employees to explain the layoffs and answer questions prior to making the announcement public. She said she was asked why the city didn't dip into its reserves to maintain the positions.
"The City Council's top priority is fiscal responsibility," she reported telling them. "The reserve is for a truly catastrophic emergency." Also, she said Tuesday, if the reserves were used for the employees' salaries, they would last only two years, and the city would then be in the same position it was prior to the layoffs, with no financial backup at all.
Others wondered if the jobs could be saved with money from the $72.2 million Civic Center project. On Tuesday, Ehler said that the majority of the Civic Center funding, $59.5 million, is ultimately coming from development fees and assessments that can only be used for capital improvements projects, not for salaries. Plus, Landeros said, delays caused by re-directing the remaining $12.7 million General Fund portion could result in significantly higher project costs in the long run.
"First of all, sooner or later, (the Civic Center) is going to happen, whether it's now or in five years," she said. "The costs of construction are much better right now. Contractors are working at cost, bidding on jobs when they wouldn't even give us the time of day 18 months ago."
Borrowing rates are also good right now, Ehler added, and there's a need to improve the downtown in order to attract the private investments needed to prevent its demise. Once investors who have money see the city is serious about its commitment to revitalize the city core, Landeros is confident they will get on board.
"As bad as things are for some, there is still opportunity," Landeros said. "I really think we need to move forward (with the Civic Center) for the downtown."
The city's next budget, due in June, is now being scrutinized for other cuts that might be needed, depending on what impacts are handed down from the state's and county's fiscal woes. The "couple more" job losses in development services that Landeros said this week could occur are likely to come before the new budget is in effect.
"We hope there won't be draconian service impacts (in June), and I can't guarantee there won't be more layoffs," Landeros said. "I won't promise what I can't deliver."
One thing she did promise, however, is that the police department is safe. Even non-personnel items such as the purchase of crime analysis software is still on track, whereas programs in other departments are either already on hold, or are likely to be on hold soon.
"The community values its safety," Landeros said. "We hear it in the neighborhoods: people want police protection."