FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield City Council approved a budget Tuesday night that leans heavily on Measure P to avoid any cuts or employee layoffs.
The council voted 5-0 to approve the balanced budget without those cuts for the first time in five years. At the same time, they received a warning that things could get dicey once again when the 1 percent sales tax expires in five years.
Council members made no comments while voting after listening to an hour-long report that highlighted how the city got where it is and where it’s headed. Finance Director David White gave a detailed report on how the estimated $12 million to $13 million per year in money from Measure P helped stabilize what would have been an $8.5 million deficit each of the five years it will be in effect.
White’s report showed the city had a surplus of $2.8 million for 2012-13, which he said was thanks to $1.5 million deferred from street maintenance. The fiscal year ends Sunday. The city is projecting a $2.2 million surplus in 2013-14, $1.26 million for 2014-15 and $1.84 million for 2015-16.
Included in the report was how the city has previously cut the work force from 650 to just more than 500 employees and borrowed from other areas in the budget to keep afloat. White said the plan is to build reserves back up to 20 percent by the 2017-18 fiscal year.
“It makes it a challenge to deliver services to the city,” White told the council. “We used a lot of reserve money to get us where we are.”
White warned the council that rising pension and health care costs are coming. Those costs can’t be controlled by the city without employee concessions, White said, which can’t be factored in when projecting costs.
Councilwoman Pam Bertani asked White what can be done to defray those costs in the future when one-time money like the sales tax dries up.
“What do we do when Measure P ends,” Bertani asked. “How do we bridge that gap?”
White didn’t have an answer. He said Fairfield isn’t alone in facing that question. He said economic development and other revenue-building measures are important, but it is still unknown how the economy will rebound in the coming years.
“We are very mindful of it. We don’t like it,” White said. “There are a lot of cities scratching their heads about it.”
Reach Danny Bernardini at 427-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dbernardinidr.