San Bernardino officials battle confusion, each other — but pass budget

Steven Cuevas/KPCC

KPCC's Steven Cuevas sits behind the finance chiefs at Wednesday night's San Bernardino council hearing.

San Bernardino city officials approved a bankruptcy budget plan Wednesday night that will get the city nearly halfway out of a $46 million budget hole.

All it took was a tense eight-hour meeting that ended just after midnight Wednesday, followed by a shorter but equally contentious and often confusing one that took about four hours Wednesday afternoon.

In the end, the city council passed a bare-bones "prependency" spending plan that requires a range of drastic cuts: a hiring freeze on cops and firefighters, the closure of rec centers and libraries and about 100 layoffs. That’s just the start. It might also include the part time closure of three fire stations – an action proposed by the fire chief, but opposed by Councilman Chas Kelley and the firefighters union.

The proposed "brown-outs" stalled the Tuesday meeting, but city leaders plan to revisit fire service reductions after the fire chief comes up with a revised plan.

The new spending plan also includes an effort to bring in extra revenue through new contracts with trash collectors.

The final 4-2 vote came after quick and sometimes angry debate over dueling amendments to the spending plan. Council members inserted various motions to amend the budget plan, only to withdraw them, and then resubmit them for a vote after more heated debate.At one point, the council needed a brief recess so staff could explain what was up for a vote.

Councilwoman Virginia Marquez noted the confusion made the council look "silly." But with the proposals explained and the recess over, the council passed the plan.

With that, City Attorney James Penman praised the council and his political rival, Mayor Pat Morris, telling the crowd in the council chambers, "I think you just saw the council and the mayor and the city attorney working together to stave off disaster."

Morris responded simply, "I think we're done."

But San Bernardino isn't done. The spending plan needs the approval of a federal bankruptcy judge. City manager Andrea Travis-Miller reminded the council that even with the approved cuts, the city is still looking at a $7 million dollar budget hole. She said her office is preparing another round of proposed cuts to deliver the council in about 60 days.

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