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City services facing big cuts, soon

The budget hammer is falling early — and especially hard — this year as the mayor has given all city departments until Friday to trim about 27 percent from their fiscal year 2010 discretionary budgets.

An Oct. 8 memorandum from city Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone and Chief Financial Officer Mary Lewis to deputy chief operating officers more than hinted at budget cuts going down into and through the bone this year.

“The city must close a projected $179.1 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2011,” the memorandum states. “Simply put: Cutting soon means cutting less. Departments are requested to develop a budget reduction plan that can be implemented as early as Jan. 1, 2010.”

Later, in an Oct. 21 address to the city’s Budget and Finance Committee, Mayor Jerry Sanders said every month the new budget is in effect before July 1, 2010, reduces the level of budget cuts needed by about $10 million.

“If our new budget took effect Jan. 1, we could reduce the amount of cuts by approximately $60 million — $60 million in public services that would be saved,” he said. “At a time when every department is considering deep cuts in popular programs and neighborhood services, a savings of that magnitude cannot be ignored.”

To put $60 million in budget savings in perspective, Sanders noted that the city’s Library Department and Park and Recreation Department budgets for this entire year were $37 million, and $86 million, respectively.

What would an additional 27 percent reduction to already cash-starved city departments such as parks translate into? At this stage, nobody’s certain, and few are even willing to speculate.

Stacy LoMedico, the city’s Park and Recreation director, noted that her department hasn’t been singled out.

“The Goldstone memo on budget reductions wasn’t just for parks and rec, it was all departments,” she noted, pointing out the directive to deal with budget cuts sooner rather than later trumps all other considerations.

Presently, LoMedico is working with three La Jolla groups — La Jolla Recreation Council Inc., La Jolla Town Council and La Jolla Shores Association — on re-evaluating how the community’s numerous parks are administered. Reassessing how the duties of these groups relating to parks might be changed is likely to be delayed by pressing budgetary matters.

“I’ve cautioned them to be cognizant and aware of my time commitment regarding this (budget) memo,” LoMedico said.

Chip Rome, chairman of La Jolla Rec Council Inc., which oversees operations at La Jolla Rec Center on Prospect Street and Bird Rock Park, said it’s too early to tell what impact additional budget cuts to city parks might have on community operations.

“It all depends on what they’re (city’s) cutting,” he said, noting that there have already been significant cuts and shifting of parks staff.

Rome, however, wouldn’t hazard a guess as to what might happen locally with future budget cuts.

“I take the Warren Buffet approach, not to swing the bat when the ball is still in the glove,” he quipped.

Jim Heaton, chairman of the La Jolla Shores Association, an advisory group that oversees parks in the La Jolla Shores area, thinks parks budget cuts could mean fewer hours at some local rec centers.

The net effect of any more parks budget cuts in La Jolla and elsewhere in the city is likely to be severe, agreed La Jolla Park and Rec Inc. board member Mary Coakley.

“There’s nothing left to cut,” she said. “I think they’re down to the bone.”

Coakley added that drastic measures, such as cutting hours at La Jolla Rec Center, would only be considered as a last resort.

“Our mission is to serve the public,” she said, adding that ways will be found to continue park services despite hard times. “When somebody tells me it’s impossible, it just means it will take a little longer,” she said.