With tax revenue weighed down by the pandemic while the need for community resources is increasing, the Redwood City Council will be asked to approve an updated fiscal year 2020-21 budget reflecting cuts and freezes to various services — including the fire and police department.
Come Monday, the council will be asked to adopt a revised Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget proposing $7.7 million worth of reductions, including a $6.3 million reduction to the General Fund. The proposed “transitional” budget lays out a recovery plan spanning the next five years and, if not approved, the city could experience future budget deficits of $7 million to $13 million.
“This is far beyond the recessions experienced in our lifetime. … We now know too, from all the different studies, that this economic recession will likely last about five years. It’s not going to be a short-term thing. It’s going to be a while until we recover,” said Melissa Stevenson Diaz, the city manager of Redwood City.
To balance the budget, a one-time contribution of $3 million from reserves was pulled to match the city’s $151 million revenue with its $154 million in expenditures. The city is required to maintain a reserves of 15% of the following year’s projected revenue and currently has reserves of 21% or $32 million.
A majority of proposed General Fund budget savings come from a $4.9 million reduction to the police and fire departments. The budget proposes nine positions within the police department remain vacant as well as a fire training captain position within the fire department.
Additional reductions to the fire department would include the temporary closure of Engine 9, one of the two vehicles stationed at the downtown firehouse. All calls to Engine 9 would either be transferred to Truck 9, a ladder vehicle without water carrying capabilities, or to a neighboring station. A 5.6% reduction is being proposed to the fire department’s total budget.
‘Firefighters are frustrated’
Michael Elhihi, a Redwood City firefighter and executive board member with the Redwood City Firefighters Association, said the loss of the engine could spell danger for residents and cuts to the department has made firefighters feel the city “turned a back” to the force.
“Firefighters are frustrated. They come to work tired and hurt and not enough people see what we do on calls. … We love doing the job that we do and we don’t need anyone to do more than say ‘we recognize the work you do,’ but this feels very personal,” said Elhihi, noting the fire department is the only agency experiencing cuts to service, while other agencies are instituting hiring freezes.
While Elhihi said losing Engine 9 could cause major disruptions in service, leaving endangered residents waiting for stations or other cities to deploy assistance, Stevenson Diaz said she and Fire Chief Dave Pucci assessed reductions in all stations and determined temporarily eliminating the engine would be most manageable.
“Our current average response time is 5:38 minutes, which is excellent. Average response time in District 9 will increase by 6 seconds overall with the brownout of Engine 9. For most other districts, there is no statistically significant increase in response time; for district 11 and 10 the increase is less than 6 seconds,” Stevenson Diaz said in an email.
Station 9 is the only station with both a truck and engine. Stevenson Diaz and fire officials believe Truck 9 is capable of managing calls to the station until another solution is developed. She noted a majority of calls made to Engine 9 are medical related and within Truck 9’s capacity.
Reimagining how services provided
While cuts to the departments are not ideal, Stevenson Diaz said this time period will require the city to reimagine how services are provided to the community, a request that’s been made by community members for months following civil unrest over the police killings of Black Americans. She noted $200,000 has been set aside to contribute to a pilot program led by the county which will contract mental health clinicians on emergency calls alongside police officers.
“We have some work to do to figure out how we deliver services and what services we need to be developing for a long-term recovery,” said Stevenson Diaz.
The city’s top priority, Stevenson Diaz said, is to ensure all employees are retained and community members continue to receive the services they need, particularly during the pandemic. She noted residents will likely not feel the budget cuts within services because the burden is largely placed on city staff.
“I appreciate the work of staff who’ve worked to keep the city on a good path forward. I’m really just proud we’ve been able to avoid layoffs and city staff is doing tremendous work,” said Stevenson Diaz, who noted that other departments will bear the burden of budget cuts if the council opts to not approve the proposed reductions.
The City Council will meet remotely via Zoom at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26, and will be streamed live at redwoodcity.org and on Comcast Channel 27 and AT&T U-verse Channel 99. Remote public comments will be received by telephone during the meeting, prior to the close of public comment on an item. *67 (669) 900-6833, Meeting ID: 999 2068 0907.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106