"Around 2005 we found out that our checkbook wasn't looking like we needed it to. It's fair to say that this budget year is particularly treacherous," said Chris Zapata, city manager for National City, at the opening of the August 10 special budget meeting.
The purpose of the meeting was to try and fill the budget gap by cutting the library department, recreation department, and the city's senior centers.
The gaping hole that is the city's structural deficit continues to grow despite prior reductions to service and skimming dozens of top-level management positions. During fiscal year 2009-2010, National City had to dip into the reserves and find other funding to balance a $3.3 million shortfall. The shortfall is expected for the next three years. According to Zapata, city revenues are back to 2004 levels, despite the 1 percent city sales-tax increase passed in 2006.
The city's library department was first on the butcher's block. Staff presented the mayor and city councilmembers with five options, ranging from doing nothing and keeping the library open seven days a week, to closing the library doors three days a week.
In addition to reducing hours at the library, the council also deliberated on proposals to slash the neighborhood council program, reduce hours at recreation centers and the Kimball Senior Center, and to put a tarp on the community pool for the winter.
"Nobody here predicted this except maybe the guy standing on the corner with a clapboard saying that the world was going to end," said Mayor Ron Morrison during council deliberation.
By the end of the night, the city council managed to trim $270,000 of fat from the budget, $130,000 short of their goal. They did so by reducing library hours by 12 hours a week, which saved the city approximately $140,000 a year, eliminating one full-time position on the neighborhood council program, closing recreation centers one hour earlier each day, shuttering the Kimball Senior Center on Fridays, and shutting down the pool on Sundays.
Regarding additional cuts to city services, Zapata said, "We have to put our harnesses back on."