Lemoore City Council forced into tough decisions as it pares annual city budget

By Ed Martin, Editor
Lemoore City Council forced into tough decisions as it pares annual city budget

The Coronavirus Pandemic is hitting many of California’s nearly 500 cities hard. Lemoore’s council members experienced some of that pain Wednesday afternoon at a special council meeting and reluctantly approved a 2020-21 spending plan that cuts operating budgets, reduces salaries and benefits, and capital project expenditures.

Lemoore city staff presented council members with a general fund budget complete with a $2.8 million deficit. Expenditures were expected to be about $13.5 million, while the proposed revenues came in at $10.7 million.

Lemoore is hardly alone when it comes to city budget woes. The League of California Cities, a lobbying organization for California’s nearly 500 cities, says that California cities, big and small, are experiencing severe budget impacts as a result of COVID-19. The League is currently lobbying the state’s legislature for additional funding to assist cities strapped by the pandemic.

The League estimates California’s cities face a $7 billion general revenue shortfall. While Lemoore’s deficit is a mere $2.8 million, it is still a significant sum for a town of about 26,000 residents.

Assistant City Manager Michelle Speer delivered a budget overview for council members and said the city hoped to save money by holding city positions vacant, layoffs, cutting back on purchases, and limiting spending in the city’s departments.

Taking the hardest cuts was the city’s recreation department, where several city employees, including the department’s director, were furloughed. Only one employee remains in the recreation department. Last year’s recreation department budget sat at  $732,000. This year it was whittled down to $240,031.

Even the police department felt the pain. The proposed police department outlay of $7,094,627 is down from last year’s adopted $7,368,749. Law enforcement is the city’s most extensive general fund budget item.

The Lemoore Chamber of Commerce, which last year received $40,000 from the city for various events, found itself on the chopping block, a cut that could affect several traditional city events, including the annual Lemoore Christmas Parade.

“We’re cutting positions. We’ve laid off five full time (employees) and a part-timer. We’ve frozen some positions in the city entirely eight months ago, and now this year we’re in the budget.” said Lemoore City Manager Nathan Olson. “We’re cutting everywhere we can without impacting public safety. That’s the nature of it.

“It’s up to this council. If you want to put monies back into rec (recreation department) and put monies back into community events, that’s up to you. But, we’re at a $2.8, $2.9 million-dollar deficit, so anything we add in grows that deficit and takes us in the wrong direction.”

Council members also studied a resolution and ordinance outlining a special one percent sales tax measure, which appears headed for the November 3, 2020 ballot. The specific one percent sales tax measure is expected to generate about $1.8 million annually for Lemoore’s police and fire departments. A specific tax requires a two-thirds vote to pass.

The measure will "sunset" after seven years. Council members will vote on the proposal at their July 7 regular council meeting.


Lemoore City Council forced into tough decisions as it pares annual city budget

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