Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 11/20/2012 10:54:58 PM PST

RIALTO – Severe cuts in public safety and other city services can be expected if voters here don’t approve an extension of the utility-users tax before it sunsets in June.

That was the word from officials Tuesday night during a public workshop on the 8 percent tax that brings in roughly $11 million annually to the General Fund.

“Do we depend on it, yeah, we depend on it,” Councilman Ed Palmer said.

The meeting in Council Chambers was held as the city faces what finance officials say is a fiscal emergency brought on by paltry tax revenue and shrinking reserves.

They say if the tax is lost, the city’s contingency reserves will be exhausted in fiscal 2013-14.

Added to the structural deficit, a loss of the tax would bring the General Fund shortfall to more than $21 million, according to city documents.

But the tax isn’t a panacea for the city’s financial ills.

George Harris, director of administrative and community services, told the council that the city still has “a lot of work to do,” even with the utility-users tax in place.

Rialto has used reserves the last few years to overcome structural deficits.

But deficit spending is draining the reserves, which are below the city’s policy goal of 50 percent of the budgeted General Fund expenditures.

It could all translate to massive cuts that start in the police and fire departments.

In his report to the council, Harris said the Police Department could stand to lose $5.3 million. It would mean the loss of 20 positions and the possible folding of units that include investigations, narcotics and traffic.

The loss could result in increased response times, which is the same scenario the Fire Department faces if it gets hit with cuts, which might be up to $2.9 million.

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