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San Bernardino fails to pass budget cuts in bankruptcy process

After a meeting that lasted more than nine hours and stretched past midnight, the San Bernardino City Council failed to pass a plan for drastic budget reductions, an initial step in the city's bankruptcy proceedings.

The proposed "pre-pendency plan" included $22.4 million in cuts, achieved by measures including slashing more than 100 jobs and closing three of the four city libraries. It would not cover the entire $45.8-million budget shortfall, but city staff called the plan a necessary first step.

Proposed cuts to the Fire Department became an irreconcilable sticking point. Twenty positions in the department were slated to be eliminated without layoffs, and the plan included an option of rotating closures at fire stations.

PHOTOS: California cities in bankruptcy

Instead of voting on the budget plan as a whole, Councilman Chas Kelley made a proposal to vote on an alternate plan for the Fire Department that was backed by the firefighters union, and to direct staff to seek bids on a proposal to contract out some of the city's trash services.

The vote, taken after midnight, passed 4 to 3 but was promptly vetoed by Mayor Pat Morris, who had called that plan "irresponsible" and an "almost slavish adoption of a union proposal without any analysis."

Kelley countered, "It is irresponsible for us to put the public safety in jeopardy."

Council members descended into sniping at several points in the night. At one point, Councilwoman Wendy McCammack told Morris she would not "go along to get along" on the budget.

"I'm sorry -- that's what got us into this mess," she said.

"That's not what got us into this mess," Morris said. "I'm sorry, Ms. McCammack, it's largely politics that got us into this mess."

After the vote on Kelley's proposal failed, Councilman Rikke Van Johnson introduced a motion to pass the budget plan presented by staff minus the Fire Department cuts and to and table discussion of that department until later. The motion failed 4-3.

The council agreed to return for a third attempt at passing an austerity plan Wednesday at a special meeting.

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-- Abby Sewell

Photo: The San Bernardino City Council meets in July to discuss bankruptcy protection. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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