S. Lake Tahoe budget includes layoffs, using reserves


By Kathryn Reed

Deficit spending is continuing in South Lake Tahoe for another year and may be what happens in 2013-14, too.

The budget the City Council is expected to approve Sept. 18 includes $700,000 from unassigned excess reserves. And while the budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1, is balanced per state law, the city is not living within its means because it has to take from reserves. It would be like the average person dipping into savings to pay routine monthly bills.

“We are solving the budget for today, but we are on notice for tomorrow because we still have problems,” City Manager Nancy Kerry told Lake Tahoe News.

As of today, it is estimated the 2013-14 budget shortfall will be $1.5 million.

To help balance the budget for the coming fiscal year Kerry has reorganized city staff to the savings of $450,000. This includes more layoffs.

Jobs being eliminated as of the end of the calendar year are the risk manager, buyer and street superintendent. The law clerk position will not be funded past May 31, 2013. The director for engineering position goes away as soon as the person who has it goes on maternity leave, which is expected later this fall.

Sarah Hussong-Johnson, who is the director of engineering, is expected to return in 2013 from leave to be a part-time city engineer as well as deputy public works director.

Positions that will remain on the books, but will not be funded for now are an IT technician, assistant to city manager and community services director.

“Every position is critical, but which can we do in a different way?” is how Kerry said she approached the cuts. She also reiterated what she has said in public – that with staff being cut by 30 percent in the last few years, not everything that got done in the past will get done or at least not as quickly.

“Quality core services” is now the mantra of the city.

In the reorganization, though, some new positions are being created. Part of this has to do with separating public works from community services.

New positions include a public works director who is expected to be hired by Jan. 15. An external search will be conducted for that job.

Kerry met with public works employees who for the most part came up with the plan. They will be broken into streets, engineering, fleet, capital improvement, facilities, and stormwater.

“Not a single one asked for something for themselves. Everyone said they are concerned about the public,” Kerry said.

Better coordination between the entities encompassing public works will be worked on. Cross training in jobs and creating the opportunity for career advancement should be the end result of some of the changes.

Hussong-Johnson’s job is new. It falls under public works.

A community service manager to oversee parks and recreation will be hired the latter part of January. It’s possible that person could come from within the city ranks.

Funding for a paralegal is being allocated for January as well. That person has administrative qualities that a law clerk doesn’t usually have.

The transient occupancy tax auditor will be part time, no benefits. The position is expected to pay for itself based on finding vacation rentals that are not paying their taxes.

In the budget is funding for a deputy public safety director who would be hired mid-year at a cost of about $200,000 a year – which includes salary and benefits. This person would be second in command to Police-Fire Chief Brian Uhler, but is expected to spend 80 percent of the time at the firehouse.

(Uhler’s title is changing to public safety director.)

A year ago, the three battalion chief positions were eliminated. Also in 2011, the fire chief was forced out. That left the rank of captain to oversee fire and medical calls. It’s not working.

That is why more command structure is needed and the closing of a fire station is being discussed. The results of the multiday closure of Station 2 have not been released and it’s not known if this will happen again or become a permanent situation.

It’s possible the deputy public safety director position would not be needed if the city and Lake Valley Fire Protection District settle on a merger or consolidation of the two departments. That decision may not come for another four months as the two agencies negotiate.

Kerry has asked the city fire crew to think even bigger by defining what world-class fire protection looks like on the South Shore. They are supposed to get back to her with an answer.

Money ($25,000) is also in the budget for additional part-time seasonal employees who will mostly work at Lakeview Commons and remove snow on sidewalks.

An ongoing savings to the city will be that as of Oct. 1 every city employee will be paying his or her full share of the PERS contribution. That is a savings of about $1 million this year for South Lake Tahoe.

While the city does have a systemic budget shortfall, sales tax and hotel tax numbers are beginning to show some life. Sales tax is up 8 percent since 2010, while TOT is 6 percent higher than two years ago. The city is projecting a 2½ percent increase in TOT in the 2012-13 budget.

Property tax is flat and remains a concern.

Kerry praised the council of 2003-04 for creating a 25 percent reserve. At that time it was zero. It grew to $14 million by 2007 and will be at $9.1 million if the 2012-13 budget is approved. And that figure would be more than 25 percent by $2.1 million. That is why the $700,000 being used to balance the budget is called unassigned excess reserves.

Kerry has studied South Tahoe’s budgets for the last 30 years. The common theme is spending during good times – especially on staff, then slashing during bad times.

“What we need to do when things get better is continue the reserve. We need to not spend money on staff, but on the community,” Kerry said. She wants to put things in the ground, create programs – use taxpayer money on taxpayers. But she also thinks adding to the reserves in really good times is smart business so when it cycles around to the lean times the cuts are more balanced and less painful for staff and residents.


Note: All of these changes are dependent on the council approving them Tuesday. The Sept. 18 meeting is at 9am at Lake Tahoe Airport.




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Comments (31)
  1. Another X Local says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    The City continues to be the “poster child” on how to not get it right. More cuts, more layoffs…same old story. As for the fire department not working with no command structure, what a surprise. Nobody who knows anything about the fire service would have thought it could work. In cities where a combined “public safety” department has been created have seen it as a failure. Asking the fire guys left what a “world class” fire department would be is nuts. None of them have the experience/exposure to top notch departments out of the area to even know what a good department should be like. The way things are going, disincorporation appears to be in the wind in the next few years.

  2. 30yrlocal says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    I think it’s great they are trying. I applaud Nancy for going to the staff to see what their recommendations are for doing their jobs differently. I’ve always gone to employees for input and feedback as they are the ones doing the job on a daily basis. If they have a say in the solution they are easier to get on board with change.

    You need to do what you have to do in order to save money and get the job done to the satisfaction of all, employees to voters to customers to the council.

  3. Educate Yourself says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    Rather than trying to create a “world class” fire department, how about starting by being at least as good as the neighboring Fire Districts, Lake Valley and Tahoe Douglas? They each at least have a command structure and a Fire Marshal.

  4. Tahoeadvocate says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    What I read into this is “paid” parking will rear its ugly head again. They want the revenue from all the parking tickets.

  5. Aaron says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    Paid parking is not the only means of making a buck for the City. The City is aggressively going after homeowners, and businesses looking for anything and everything they can to fine them. Suddenly, the City claims there is no grandfather claus. According to their building inspectors, there never was. Strange since a TRPA inspector told me there was. So which is it? I’m not talking about the City going after eyesores. I’m talking about the City going after struggling businesses who are doing everything right and obeying the laws. The building inspectors are going after anyone. It’s turned into a witch hunt. This is where the City is faling to think. As usual. If the City is going to make it hard for a business to operate, then how do they expect a business to stay afloat and pay their taxes? Idiots they are. All of them. None of them have a fickin clue as to what they are doing.

  6. Hal Cole says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    Kae, Rather than saying the use of our reserves (in conjunction with cost cutting measures) is like “a family dipping into reserves to pay routine monthly bills”, I think a better analogy would be “like a family creating a savings account for an emergency, and the breadwinner gets laid off” Our state is in a financial crisis and is eliminating and/or reducing traditional revenue sources for cities and counties. We are trying to balance the need for essential services with the need to cut expenditures. We presently have a healthy reserve account and our reliance on it has been diminishing. I expect our city budget to be balanced in 2013-2014.

  7. Tahoeadvocate says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    I would think that an evaluation of what is truely “essential” services needs to be done. Stop funding the “wants”, the “it would be nice to”, the “services which should be provided by individual citizens, churches and non-profit organizations” and only fund the “MUSTS BY LAW”. Evaluation which law drives why a particular dollar is being spent. If there is no law then remove it from the budget. Now see how much extra money you have to return to the taxpayers.

  8. Headroom says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    Since Another X Local has brought it up–and it has been mentioned before– I’m curious to to know what disincorporation would mean to the average resident. How would we govern ourselves? Who would make the many small and large decisions that the council presently makes. (For example, what color decorative lights should businesses along Highway 50 be allowed to display on their buildings at night?)
    Are people who live in El Dorado County in any better shape than we are? And the never ending flow of PLANS approved by the city council… Who can keep track of their numbers? Do we paper the airport walls with them and just walk away? Sounds like a plan, but is it a good one?

  9. sunriser2 says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    The story indicates a $1,500,000 short fall. Does this include the $1,500,000 the city needs to pay back to El Dorado County because of the successful LTD tax appeal or are we really $3,000,000 short?

  10. Parker says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    Tahoeadvocate, you said it! But since the reserve isn’t being used for anything, like fixing our roads, made as well use it to subsidize our bloated City Govt!

  11. Dick Fox says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    I think since it’s California Wine Month we should all drink the vintage 1966 Reagan Red Rotgut “I hate gubmint and taxes” whine that is so prevalent on this forum. “If there is no law then remove it from the budget.” Now there’s a solution that would stop this town in it’s tracks. But hey, then I would have a few extra bucks… that’s all that really counts, now isn’t it?

  12. Tahoeadvocate says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    I do not hate the goverment and taxes. I hate the goverment doing things outside the reason they were formed. I’ve tried to find the city charter or articles of incorporation but can’t find them. I’ll be that the voters who approved the formation of a city in 1965 did not intend for them to be doing what they are today.

  13. Dick Fox says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    In 1965 I was politically and morally opposed to the John Birch Society(Teabaggers) with my middle-class parents. Your ideas about gov’t and society are the same free-market, “Me the People”, “Greed is Good” nonsense that has never worked in any size society, anywhere, ever.

  14. Dogula says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    Using the term “teabaggers” is extremely offensive. It’s right up there with the “n” word so stop it.
    When has socialism ever worked? It’s been tried repeatedly and has failed every time. And don’t tell me you’re not a socialist. I’ve seen your web page.

  15. local girl says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    Social democracy works very well in many countries of northern and central Europe. And they have many brown-skinned immigrants so it’s not because they have a “homoegenous” society. They have some problems but their problems are way way smaller than those in the U.S. And they live with at least as much freedom as we have.

  16. Brendan says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    The tea party originally called themselves teabaggers, so that is what they are

  17. Parker says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    Yes, the Eurozone currently is illustrating how great Big Government is! Liberals like to talk about sustainability with the environment. But we need as a society to focus on the sustainability of our Federal, State & Local Governments! Doing so is pro-, not anti-govt!

  18. snoheather says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    Really?!? Teabagger is as offensive as a term that has been used for hundreds of years to belittle blacks?!? I have been keeping my mouth shut as Dogula has slowly crept back into making her outrageous opinion known but I cannot be quiet about this. The notion that the term teabagger is even comparable to the “N word” shows the extreme ignorance of the person making the comment.
    The Tea Party are the ones who first used that term for themselves until they realized the slang meaning of it.

  19. Honkylonk says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    C’mon people… it’s a relatively minor issue but just FYI Tea Party Members referred to themselves as “Tea Partiers”! Anderson Cooper and Chris Matthews popularized the usage of the insulting term “Tea Bagger” which most of us had never heard of before, probably because it is a not widely known gay reference. After having this practice defined, it is not difficult to grasp the notion that it is intended as a gay-oriented slur oddly addressed towards people who have no relation to it.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t at least some “Log Cabin” type “Tea Partiers”, I’m sure there are.

  20. Really? says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    It’s not a gay reference. Teabagging is a male reference. Heteros like it to!

  21. admin says - Posted: September 13, 2012

    Can we stick to the city budget, please?

    Thank you.

    Kathryn Reed, LTN publisher

  22. TeaTotal says - Posted: September 14, 2012

    When one segment of our city’s citizens absolutely refuses to consider any forms of revenue increase through taxes or fees, the discussion of our budget becomes all about cuts in services, education for our children , local public service jobs and a decrease in our quality of life here at South Shore. That is pretty important to the subject is it not?

  23. snoheather says - Posted: September 14, 2012

    Well said TeaTotal. The unwillingness to make compromises is what is going to take this country down. There are so many in this country that advocate for the corrupt politicians and corporations they can’t realize it is hurting themselves and the futures of this country’s children. Education and infrastructure should be the most important budget items. Instead they are the first to get cut. I guess some would prefer that we live in an uneducatated, dilapidated society as long as the rich can keep their tax cuts. Uneducated people are easier to control.

    FYI- I found this on the Tea Party Wikipedia page:

    “The term teabagger was initially used to refer to Tea Partiers after conservatives used tea bag as a verb on protest signs and websites. Shortly thereafter, some started using the phrase mockingly, alluding to the sexual connotation of the term when referring to Tea Party protesters. Most conservatives do not, for the most part, use the term with its double entendre meaning; rather it seems the political left has adopted the joke. It has been used by several media outlets to humorously refer to Tea Party-affiliated protestors. Conservatives initially embraced the term, and some have since advocated that the non-vulgar meaning of the word be reclaimed.”

  24. John says - Posted: September 14, 2012

    Other than snow removal (the fleet is aging, this is next), can anyone name a service that the city is performing exceptionally well? At some point it is pretty reasonable for citizens to get fed up and not want to pay anymore. I am pretty liberal, definitely an Obama voter, but I am voting against anything that will raise taxes anymore. I am fed up with the incompetence. Geeze, the city couldnt even set up a contract with a hot dog vendor at commons beach. When is enough, enough?

  25. Biggerpicture says - Posted: September 14, 2012

    John, you ask, “can anyone name a service that the city is performing exceptionally well?”

    Three words:

    Parks and recreation.

    And I do hope we focus on upgrading the recreation center in the near future to keep that ball rolling.

  26. John says - Posted: September 14, 2012

    Biggerpicture, lets look at that. Parks and rec, they needed to change managment of the ice rink. Maybe a good decision, I dont know. But, in that process they forgot to look at the bonds that financed the ice rink and had to suddenly refinance the whole thing in what amounted to a bond fire sale. That is your example of competence? That is their very best? Sir, that is my point.

  27. BiggerPicture says - Posted: September 14, 2012

    John, if you ever had any children involved in any parks and rec programs YOU would see MY point!

    P.S. And why would you assume me to be a male?

  28. Sundance says - Posted: September 14, 2012

    So, so what if three more people are losing their jobs. What is not being mentioned is that with the loss of the “risk manager” this dissolves the whole department. The City doesn’t think they need someone watching out for their interests in workman comp claims and insurance claims and whatever else this person watches out for to protect the City? And by laying off the buyer, they have also dissolved the Purchasing department. Well now that is a grand idea. Let all the departments go buy their own supplies, equipment, etc. Not to mention setting up their own contracts. I’m sure they will be concerned about cost over simplicity. I would think that of any of the departments at the City that Risk Management and Purchasing would have the best chance of saving the City money. Let the fun begin, can’t wait to see the end of the fiscal year and how much over budget they are with these changes, unless of course they hide it or pull more money from the reserves. When you are in a sinking ship, why would you want to create more holes to plug?

  29. SLTEXPAT says - Posted: September 17, 2012

    Wow. I used to enjoy reading the comments section to see the thoughts of the residents of SLT. Now it has turned an article about city finances and resources in to personal attacks, squabbling and the correct definition of “tea baggers” ? Ridiculous.

  30. Bob says - Posted: September 18, 2012

    Paying any PUBLIC official $200,000 is absolutely ludicrous.