The Gilroy City Council agreed June 1 to move forward with a plan that lays off 21 city employees, freezes recreational programs, implements furlough days and other cuts as officials work to balance a financial deficit made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The council voted 5-1-1 on the plan, with Councilmember Dion Bracco dissenting. Councilmember Fred Tovar was absent due to a family emergency.
Across its various revenue sources, the city is anticipated to be short $11.3 million over two years, according to Interim City Administrator Jimmy Forbis, primarily due to a drastic decline in sales tax revenue. The city expects to lose 30 percent of its sales tax revenue, or roughly $3 million, this year, according to Forbis. The following year, a nearly $2 million shortfall is anticipated.
According to Forbis, 33 full-time positions are expected to be eliminated across all city departments, 12 of which are currently vacant. In addition, most part-time staff were already furloughed on May 1.
The council also agreed to freeze a scheduled pay raise for department heads and council members. Staff will also work with bargaining groups to negotiate a two-year pay freeze, Forbis said.
The recreation department, with eight layoffs planned, is one of the hardest hit departments in the city, as most recreational programs have ceased due to Covid-19. Those programs will remain frozen until a cost recovery plan is determined for them, Forbis said.
The police department will reduce various vacant positions, while laying off a pair of part-time office assistants and a property evidence technician.
In total, the reductions are expected to save the city $8 million, according to Forbis. The decision will be implemented beginning July 1.
Forbis said there was “no joy” in presenting the cuts.
“I wish there was something I could say that would put a positive spin on things and make things not seem as bad as they are, but this is not the world that we are in right now,” he said.
The city received more than 110 letters from the public on the recommended cuts, according to City Clerk Shawna Freels, the majority of which addressed the proposed recreation reductions.
In a letter to the council, Gilroy native McKenna Baldwin wrote that recreation is “needed and essential.”
“Recreation is beneficial to the children of the community to be involved and make friends,” she wrote. “Recreation is beloved by the elder community who come and enjoy the local theater shows or sports games. Recreation is helpful for the parents who work endlessly and are in need of services for their child.”
Many others claimed that the city was cutting recreation funds to use that money to build a parking structure for downtown. However, the council on May 18 agreed to keep $1.5 million for a parking lot proposed at the corner of Seventh and Eigleberry streets on the books, which was money already dedicated to that project and not for recreation.
City employees also wrote to the council, some of which said they didn’t know the specifics of the proposed cuts until the council agenda was posted online on May 27.
Planning manager Julie Wyrick said her position was one that had been identified to be eliminated, and urged the council to delay its decision to June 15 to allow the city to work with its various bargaining groups.
“I understand these are unprecedented times,” she wrote in a letter. “I do wish, however, that these decisions were not made so quickly, so seemingly reactionary to an ever-evolving situation.”
Bracco, who voted against the proposal, said he couldn’t support the plan that adds some positions in light of the layoffs, namely a customer service manager for the Community Development Department.
“I’m concerned that we’re laying off staff but we’re adding management,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a good way to go.”
In a June 4 email to the Dispatch, Bracco wrote that he wanted to clarify his position after feedback he received.
“I do support our city administrator’s proposed budget reductions, and I was mistaken in saying we are adding management while laying off others,” he wrote. “In hindsight I should’ve made myself more clear and asked that the management position that I had an issue with be pulled for separate discussion. I would like to apologize to my fellow council members and the public for the confusion.”
Mayor Roland Velasco warned that the city may have to come back later and “dig deeper.”
“This is just like a family’s budget,” he said. “We have to make ends’ meet. This is our city council’s effort to try to balance the budget so we can sustain the near term and be sustainable in the long term.”