As the national economic downturn rattles Santa Cruz, local residents got the chance to dictate exactly how local services should be affected.
Last week the City Council held an emergency community forum on the current budget crisis facing the city of Santa Cruz. Since 2002, the city faced a General Fund budget cut of over $14 million, and over 100 people in the city workforce have lost their jobs.
The meeting was a reflection of city leaders’ willingness to work with residents through these tough economic times.
City manager Dick Wilson explained where citizens’ tax money goes within the city.
“We are much different from other cities with 60,000 people, because we maintain our own landfill, beaches, boardwalk and parks,” Wilson said.
City Councilmembers are looking to the residents and taxpayers of Santa Cruz for advice on how they should curtail $8 million from the city. City leaders explained that the bulk of the cutbacks, totaling $2.3 million, will affect the Santa Cruz Police Department. The majority of the 80 city employees expected to be laid off will be from the police department as well.
Ten police officers and a records clerk received notices of dismissal from their jobs on Wednesday based on a system of seniority. The layoffs will go into effect June 26.
“Losing officers is the last thing any police chief or community would want to face, but we recognize that no one is exempt from this and we too are required to shoulder the burden of this unprecedented budget crisis,” police chief Howard Skerry said.
Wilson said he is not entirely sure how the cuts in the police department will influence the city crime rates in the future.
“We are worried about how the cuts will affect the police department, but the council cannot predict how things will unfold,” Wilson said.
Much of the concern expressed at the meeting was centered on the potential closure of the Civic Auditorium on Church Street due to budget cuts being made to the Parks and Recreation department.
Eve Smith, of local roller derby team the Santa Cruz Rollergirls, pleaded to the City Council to keep the civic center open so that her team could still have a location for practices and games.
“On behalf of my organization, I beg you to please think before shutting the doors on the Civic,” Smith said.
Some positive news also came out of the forum. The city has seen a 50 percent increase in hotel room sales, Wilson said.
Joe Collins, a Santa Cruz resident for 21 years, stepped up to the podium to emphasize how important it is to give back to the city.
“If people love the city, they should try thinking of the city as a charity and [their] taxes as a donation to the city,” Collins said. “This city is worth supporting.”