Public comments on budget cuts to a centuries old public institution stretched a Redland’s City Council meeting to nearly eight hours. The council met to discuss a proposed budget to handle revenue losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Facing a fifteen point seven-million-dollar shortfall for next year’s budget, Mayor Paul Foster led a virtual city council meeting on Tuesday morning. Broadcast online, with city council members calling in remotely, the tone was somber.
“Economist projections are late 2021 before things start looking better than they are now,” said City Manager Charles Duggan.
The proposal hits essential services like police, fire and the city’s 122-year-old public library. Founded in 1898, the A.K. Smiley Library faces a recommended 20 percent, 536,000 dollar cut. This means 15 employees would lose jobs and evening and Sunday hours would be eliminated.
Kay Rob, a middle school teacher and avid reader who pre-pandemic visited the library weekly, is most concerned about how the cuts could affect students.
“Because schools are closed and kids can't have access to school libraries right now,” said Rob. “For some people the library is the only way they are going to get a hold of a book.”
The community response to these potential library losses was a resounding no. Due to social distancing measures the public was limited to providing comments by email and over 340 were received.
“I knew there would be some response, but 340 just blew us away,” said Don McCue, the director of the A.K. Smiley Library.
It took city employees over four hours to read comments on the library cuts into the public record. That didn’t include an additional 30 minutes of general comments on other department reductions.
But McCue has another concern. The library still had not fully recovered from cuts due to the last recession and a new reduction would be a devastating loss. This means less of everything including popular offerings like adult literacy and student tutoring.
“I would make the argument that there are other departments not public safety, everyone loves public safety we need them at the library as well,” said McCue. “But there are other departments that have not taken the depths of the cuts that the library has and we are hopeful the council will see that as well.”
Across departments, the city is proposing a loss of 80 jobs, that’s a nearly 15 percent loss in personnel. The Police Department who like the library has not fully recovered from the great recession cuts, faces a loss of unfilled positions in an already understaffed department. They anticipate a negative effect on emergency response times and forensics capabilities.
At the start of the meeting Mayor Foster acknowledged the difficult new reality that Redland’s shares with cities across California. Foster says he is thankful for the public's concern.
“Things are not going to be the same as they have been. Things are going to change and we want to do the best we can,” said Foster. “And we will be including you even further in the process for the following fiscal year which is going to be worse. But we have to do what we have to do to keep basic important services continuing in the city of Redlands.”
His hope is to be able to restore all budget cuts in the future. After the meeting ended at 9:19 p.m., the council made plans to revisit the budget at its May 19 meeting.