http://almanacnews.com/print/story/print/2011/06/22/atherton-ex-mayor-may-go-to-voters-in-dispute-over-outsourcing-council-oks-interim-budget


Almanac

News - June 22, 2011

Atherton: Ex-mayor may go to voters in dispute over outsourcing; council OKs interim budget

by Renee Batti

In the face of the possible layoff of 13 town employees and elimination of in-house building and public works services, former mayor Malcolm Dudley said he and other citizens will launch a ballot initiative drive if the town won't survey residents to see if they're willing to pay a higher parcel tax to balance the budget.

Mr. Dudley, speaking for himself and former mayor Jim Janz, urged the City Council at its June 15 meeting to ask residents whether they would pay an additional $350 annually to avoid the extreme measures being considered: the layoff of more than half the town's non-police staff, and the outsourcing of services they had provided.

"I don't agree there's a fiscal crisis," he said. "Any time you can solve the problem for $1 a day, it's not a crisis."

Later in the meeting, the council unanimously passed an "interim bridge budget" that reflects the layoff of the employees, who were given pink slips on May 31, but the question of whether they will actually lose their jobs has yet to be resolved.

The town two weeks ago delayed the planned layoff — originally to be effective June 30 — to July 15 while talks with the union continue. Employees had offered about 12 percent in concessions, which represented about $167,000 in savings to the town, but on June 9 increased proposed concessions to about $300,000, according to union representative Peter Finn.

The interim operating budget approved last week assumes a balanced budget, which means that spending cannot exceed projected revenues of $10.53 million. But because the town hasn't made a final decision over outsourcing the building and public services departments, how the balance will be struck has yet to be determined.

Before the budget vote, the council heard from a number of union representatives, town employees and residents about the plan to outsource services.

Rudy Gonzalez, a representative from Teamsters Local 856, warned the council that even if private contractors initially agree to low rates for their services, "eventually those costs go up," and the town will be stuck without in-house services for which it can control costs.

He also praised public employees as "dedicated to the community they serve," contrasting them with private contractors who "will be dedicated to the bottom line."

Building inspector Joseph Aiello, one of the employees handed a pink slip, cited figures indicating that the building department "is busy and getting busier." Noting that the department is designed to operate as a self-supporting enterprise fund, covering costs from fees charged for plan checking and inspections, he said "there's no legitimate reason to lay off staff."

Residents who spoke included Peter Carpenter, who praised the council and interim city manager for "coming to grips" with the town's financial problems and moving Atherton "in the right direction"; and Melinda Tevis, who stated that "a town is more than just a business."

Loren Gruner said she was disturbed to hear about pending layoffs and "the fact that we are just wiping so many people off the board." She suggested looking at other ways, perhaps some way to generate sales tax, to balance the budget.

"I hate to see us outsource everything," she said, adding that she fears a drop in service level if the town does so.

Negotiations

The town is set to meet again with union representatives on June 27, according to Mr. Gonzalez, the union representative.

Mr. Finn, a union representative involved in negotiations, said he hopes the town will accept the $300,000 worth of concessions employees are offering, noting that Interim City Manager John Danielson had estimated the planned outsourcing of the services to save the town about $276,000.

The town's savings projections won't be firmed up, however, until bids from private firms interested in providing the services come in. They are due in Town Hall on June 24.

After the question of how town services will be delivered next fiscal year is resolved, Mr. Danielson will come back to the council with a revised budget. The council asked that the final budget be brought back in 90 days or less.

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