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Layoffs and Furloughs a Real Possibility in San Fernando as Budget Gap Widens PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 09 August 2012 02:34

The fight over the ever increasing budget hole in the City of San Fernando coffers and how to close it began early on during Monday's council meeting.

Councilmember Sylvia Ballin asked to move up two agenda items dealing with the budget and employee furloughs, and asked for a second.

Quickly, Councilmember Maribel De La Torre retorted, "You don't get a second."

"So you're going to make the employees wait?" Ballin responded, shortly after Mayor Pro-Tem Antonio Lopez seconded her motion after Maribel's opposition.

In the end the items were moved up and, as expected, there was plenty of opposition from a couple of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) representatives and a couple of San Fernando city employees.

"Any sacrifices in the City of San Fernando should be a shared sacrifice," said Charles Leone, a representative of SEIU local 721, the union that speaks on behalf of city employees here. The representative also said they wanted to talk to city officials and come to an agreement before any "rash decisions" are made regarding employee layoffs or furloughs.

Dale Warren and Miguel Martinez, both assigned to the city Dept. of Public Works, said workers are already doing much more with fewer resources, and asked the council to take that into consideration.

Budget discussions were placed on the agenda on request from Ballin, who had complained the council was not working on it in closed session meetings.

City Administrator Al Hernandez gave a grim picture of city coffers, noting that San Fernando is roughly $1 million in the hole for the fiscal year 2012-2013.

However, Mayor Brenda Esqueda and De La Torre monopolized the conversation, claiming most of the budget problems stem from years of mismanagement by previous councils.

"We are paying for the sins of prior councils," Esqueda said.

"I don't want to get blamed for something I did not do," added Esqueda, saying budget problems are one of the blames used by detractors attempting to recall her and De La Torre from office.

De La Torre, who's been on the council for the past decade, also tried to distance herself from these budget woes by saying they go back before she took office.

Regardless of who's to blame, the city is considering the possibility of various program cuts, furloughs and layoffs.

One furlough day a month would save the city $386,000 for the next 10 months in fiscal year 2012-2013. One layoff saves the city about $80,000.

But this is when tensions rose, as the SEIU representative argued the council was violating labor law by negotiating employees' pay in the open without discussing it with the union first.

City Attorney Maribel Medina interjected, saying this was just an analysis and not bargaining, and therefore completely legal.

But De La Torre would have none of that and quickly supported the SEIU's position, saying the budget discussions placed on the agenda were "games" being played by Ballin.

"It sucks to be sitting up here and for these games to be played," De La Torre said, further accusing Ballin of working on behalf of the POA to benefit that union.

Mayor Esqueda followed suit, claiming she has an email of a supposed negotiation between Ballin and the POA.

Ballin simply told her to publish it before retorting that Esqueda had also acted "unethical" by speaking with a Public Works employee about the furlough agenda item before the council.

Esqueda also took time to accuse an individual (whom she later disclosed as Sev Aszkenazy, co-publisher of the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol) of keeping businesses from coming into the city.

"Those days of one individual trying to control development in the city are over," she said.

The blame game came to a halt when Ballin asked Hernandez what would happen if nothing is done on the issue.

"If we do nothing, the city runs out of cash. Bankruptcy? That's a possibility," the city administrator said.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 09 August 2012 04:22