Utility tax loss to hit city hard
Michael J. Sorba, Staff Writer
Posted: 12/04/2010 10:03:27 PM PST

COLTON – The impending loss of a utility users tax that provided a significant chunk of the city’s operating income could result in a halt of popular youth recreation programs, the closure of the Luque Branch Library and reduced maintenance of streets and parks.

But employee layoffs could have the greatest impact on the city as 16 police, nine firefighters and eight workers from other departments could be let go to help close a $5 million to $6 million budget gap expected next year.

Employee unions and city brass are negotiating pay and salary concessions with the goal of minimizing layoffs. But union representatives say losses in manpower could lead to increased response times, more crime and fewer workers to maintain parks and streets.

“Colton has the highest violent crime rate in the (county) per capita and with 1.2 police officers per 1,000 people,” said a statement from the city’s police union. “The (Police Department) will be cut from 58 (officers) to 40 to patrol a city of an estimated 51,000 people.”

The department’s Police Activities League, Colton At-risk Teens Academy and Cops N’ Jocks – programs aimed at providing the city’s youth with positive activities that steer them away from gangs and other bad influences – are all on the chopping block, officials have said.

A police union statement said Officer Rich Randolph, who heads the academy and Cops N’ Jocks, is one officer who could be laid off if the full slate of cuts is enacted. On Friday, the police union announced it will offer the city $1 million in concessions to help stave off layoffs.

“The members of the (union) are proud to serve Colton and we hope the City Council ultimately decides to allow us to continue serving our community,” Randolph said in a statement.

PAL operates popular boxing and judo programs that involve more than 100 youths. Councilman Vincent Yzaguirre hopes PAL is retained.

“With the gang problem in Colton we can ill afford to take our eye off the issue of at-risk youth in our community,” Yzaguirre said. “We need to do everything we can to maintain programs such as PAL to ensure that we point our children in the right direction through these services.”

Another officer who could lose her job is Nellie Johnson, a single mother raising an 11-year-old daughter.

“I just love working for this city, and I’m going to be sorry to see it go,” she said in a YouTube video the union posted online.

The loss of nine firefighter positions would mean the rotating closure of a fire station because the department would no longer have the bodies to staff four stations, said Fire Chief Tom Hendrix.

“This is just a result of the financial realities the city’s facing,” Hendrix said. “We certainly don’t recommend it for service levels.”

Doug Blinkinsop, a city fire engineer who represents the fire union, said the situation will likely result in longer response times for service calls near the closed station.

“It all depends on when and where we get our calls,” Blinkinsop said. “You play this rotating, musical chairs type of thing. It could mean firefighters having to travel farther for certain calls.”

Hendrix says the department may be able to reduce nine firefighter positions without layoffs.

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