The Davis City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to send a message to city workers: If the proposed sales tax increase fails at the polls on June 3 there will be no layoffs until Oct. 1.
City Council members believe the message is needed to prevent city workers from fleeing to other jobs before the election, when the fate of the city’s half-percent sales tax increase will be decided. Measure O would raise the tax from 8 percent to 8.5 percent, generating an estimated $3.6 million annually until 2020.
Without the anticipated Measure O revenue, the city would have to make cuts of either 12 percent across the board to all departments — on top of 22 percent cuts in recent years — or protect fire and police services and reduce other departments, like parks and the city manager’s office, by 25 percent.
On Tuesday, City Manager Steve Pinkerton presented council members with a list of options to look at, with the idea that they would come back after the June 3 election to make cuts, if necessary.
A new council with at least one or two new members then would have until July 15 to decide whether to place a parcel tax on the November ballot. That tax would fund a backlog of much-needed road repairs and other deferred maintenance.
Pinkerton said the city is planning a phone survey in May to gauge support for the Measure O sales tax hike.
City Councilman Brett Lee told the story of a friend’s exodus from a bank job. The bank reorganized and management asked employees apply for their own jobs in order to keep them. But the bank found instead that the people who applied for the jobs were not the most skilled — those employees fled to other companies.
“If Measure O is successful, we’re probably in good shape,” Lee said, adding that city employees might leave if they knew their jobs were in limbo.
Give them time after the election to start a job search before layoffs arrive and workers might change their tune, he said.
“A reasonable person would say, ‘Well, I think Measure O will pass, but if it doesn’t I can start my job search after that,’ ” Lee said.
In Pinkerton’s address to the council, he recounted his experiences talking to various groups around the city, including neighborhood groups.
“Even though there’s not that many people here tonight, I can tell you we’ve had feedback from hundreds of people,” he said.
Pinkerton also cautioned that cities must make their budgets on sometimes very conservative assumptions because cities are run differently than businesses.
“One thing is, cities are not allowed to go out of business,” he said. “The toilets still have to flush.”
Cities, however, can go bankrupt as in the case of Vallejo and Stockton.
To avoid such a fate, city of Davis leaders are looking at making some cuts even if Measure O is approved on June 3. Pinkerton said parks and public works likely would take the brunt of the cuts, losing between 12.5 and 13.35 positions in an early analysis presented to the council.
— Reach Dave Ryan at [email protected] or call 530-747-8057.