To help close the budget deficit brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, Half Moon Bay has eliminated six positions, resulting in five layoffs, and all department heads have agreed to a 10% pay cut.
The positions that have been eliminated include one maintenance worker, one recreation leader, one account technician, the executive assistant to the city manager and the management analyst for human resources. Another vacant maintenance position was also eliminated. The eliminated positions could potentially be funded again in the future if city officials so choose.
The 10% pay cut applies to all department heads, including City Manager Bob Nisbet, whose salary went down from $236,500 to $215,000.
The layoffs save the city $498,420 out of a total $6 million shortfall projected for fiscal year 2020-2021. The total estimated shortfall from the beginning of March 2020 through fiscal year 2020-2021 is $9.1 million, and it’s due in large part to a reduction in hotel tax revenue, the city’s top revenue source.
Councilmembers at a meeting last week stressed the layoffs were a difficult decision, but ultimately necessary.
“These cuts were very painful, but I think in light of the financial situation we had no choice,” said Councilman Harvey Rarback.
Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock also stressed her reluctance to reduce staffing levels, but said additional cuts may be necessary.
“Labor is our biggest expense and the reason is they are the service we provide the public. Not only are they our biggest expense, they’re our biggest and most important asset. … Until we absolutely have to do it I’m not going to vote to gut the organization,” she said, adding “we may have to dig deeper depending what happens and we likely will have to.”
A minority opinion on the City Council, Mayor Adam Eisen called for additional cuts to staff compensation, and it was also suggested many in the community share his perspective.
Eisen specifically felt maintenance projects, namely ones that have an impact on public safety, should be prioritized above all other expenses. At a meeting in late April, Eisen listed a number of maintenance projects being delayed or defunded that fit the above description.
“I think everyone should take a 20% or deeper cut at the start. … We don’t want to see cuts to maintenance. To me maintenance is number one,” Eisen said. “I would like to see more [cuts] personally, but I respect the will of council.”
Resident Jacqueline Crawford questioned the layoff of a maintenance worker before other staff.
“It seems a more responsible plan would be layoffs, if necessary, of non-essential employees who are not needed now in the field on a daily basis,” she said.
Nisbet noted the city has a “very lean” staff of 42 and the cuts were made in such a way “that we could still spread the workload to the best of our abilities.”
“It’s never easy,” Nisbet said. “But these were the five positions we came up with that we could do the most effective job we could with what was left after that.”
In other business, the council last week passed an urgency ordinance temporarily prohibiting evictions of commercial tenants affected by COVID-19, a move that has been made by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and other cities in the county, including San Mateo.
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