Michael J. Sorba, Staff Writer
Posted: 11/16/2010 06:23:12 PM PST

COLTON – A budget that includes laying off 16 police officers and nine firefighters will be the guiding plan City Manager Rod Foster will present to the City Council when new members take office in December.

The new council will decide what changes, if any, it will make to the budget, which plans for the loss of about $5 million produced by a Utility Users Tax that expires at the close of the fiscal year June 30.

“We still have some very serious issues to discuss with the council in a very short period of time,” Foster said.

The budget says eight employees from other departments would also be laid-off to help fill the hole. Closing a fire station, the Luque Branch Library and eliminating such youth programs as the Police Activities League are other suggestions.

The budget was approved in June to prepare for the possibility that the tax wouldn’t be extended. That scenario became a reality in August when the council didn’t muster the two-thirds approval needed to place a measure on the Nov. 2 ballot asking voters to extend the tax 10 more years.

Councilman David Toro said there are ways to avoid public safety layoffs. Audits of the police and fire departments released earlier this year estimated the city could save between $2.3 million and $8.2 million by outsourcing police and fire services or merging with neighboring fire departments.

In a 5-2 vote in July, the council decided it wouldn’t request the costs to contract with outside agencies or merge fire services. New members elected on Nov. 2 have changed the makeup of the council and Toro says he plans to ask it to reconsider requesting the costs to outsource or merge public safety services. Although the city’s public safety workers would have to transition to a new agency, jobs would be saved if the move significantly reduces costs, he said.

“I’ve always said that there’s alternatives and the audits show alternatives to (layoffs),” Toro said. “That’s one thing that we don’t want to do is reduce our service levels.”

Police Chief Bob Miller and Fire Chief Tom Hendrix have said in city reports that savings estimated in the audits are inflated. The auditor, San Francisco-based Harvey M. Rose Associates, wasn’t able to obtain solid cost estimates from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department due to time constraints and reluctance to provide numbers without a formal request from the council, Miller said.

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