Some cities better prepared for budget crisis

May 20, 2009 7:08:17 PM PDT
Cities across the Bay Area are grappling with what happened at the ballot box Tuesday and how that will likely impact their own budget issues.

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When it comes to saving San Jose's long tradition of a mounted horse unit, the budget news has gone from bad to worse overnight and community groups are fighting back.

"I think it's shortsighted and it's wrong and we can't let that happen," Denelle Fedor, president of the Friends of San Jose Mounted Unit, said.

That fight, and many other budget battles are becoming even tougher after Tuesday's election.

It is what cities call the "money grab." When California faces a severe fiscal hardship, a 2004 ballot measure allows the state to borrow money from cities and pay it back with interest within three years.

Gov. Schwarzenegger has warned the state could borrow as much as $2 billion from local governments.

San Jose already faces a $78 million budget deficit and anticipates the state borrowing $20 million in property tax revenue.

That means library hours could be cut again, park rangers eliminated, city pools closed and even cuts to public safety, like the San Jose mounted unit.

"Ideally, where it stands on a street level, they are an incredible tool and something we cannot lose," Bobby Lopez, president of the San Jose Police Officers Association, said.

Sunnyvale does not have those hard choices. The city has long term planning and saves money by cross training fire and police personnel under one department.

Sunnyvale has a rainy day fund of $36 million and anticipates the state borrowing about $4 million.

"The frustration doesn't do a lot of good that's why we plan for things like this and it's good that we have because we would be in a lot of trouble if we hadn't," Sunnyvale spokesperson Adam Levermore Rich said.

While San Jose's mayor is worried about balancing his city's budget, he is just as concerned with the big picture.

"I'm really concerned now that the state will go back into fiscal failure where we have no money, no borrowing, no projects and things just stall," Mayor Chuck Reed said.

Even cities who prepared for the worst may not be able to escape the pain of a state budget in crisis.

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