REDWOOD CITY (KPIX) — Communities across the Bay Area are seeing declining tax revenue due to the pandemic and it’s leading to cities being forced to make tough decisions about where to cut spending. In Redwood City, the council was debating whether to temporarily close one of the fire stations.
“With this God-awful Covid, it is scary,” said Victoria Townsend. She has lived in the Redwood City hills for more than 50 years and says she’s worried about how the city is going to be able to balance the budget. The last thing she wants to see is cuts to the fire department.
“Up here, we need them. We need them. We’ve got a big canyon behind us, we’ve got the eucalyptus groves,” Townsend said.
In a presentation to the Redwood City council earlier this week, a budget review showed the city needs to reduce spending by about $7.7 million. The bulk of the proposed cuts would hit the budgets for the fire and police departments. City leaders say public-safety spending accounts for 61 percent of the general revenue expenditures.
It’s a proposal that isn’t popular with residents.
“This is a time when we need our first responders and I don’t know if that’s the first place to start,” Steve Moskovitz said. He’s lived in Redwood City for more than five years.
“I think that’s terrible, especially in a pandemic situation. We need to help those guys. We don’t need to cut funds for them,” said 15-year resident Patricia Neme.
Redwood City isn’t unique. Cities across the Bay Area are losing revenue due to declining sales and property tax revenue as well as occupancy taxes on hotel rooms, since hardly anyone is traveling. San Francisco is looking at reducing spending by more than $1 billion while cuts in San Jose and Oakland amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Redwood City is cutting from every city agency. The police department has agreed to leave nine positions vacant, which will save about $3 million a year. A proposal to temporarily close Fire Station 9 would have saved the city about $2 million a year but, after pushback from the firefighter’s union and local residents, that idea was scrapped. City council members agreed to use $500,000 in reserve funds to keep the station operating for the next few months.
“I would encourage our staff to dig a bit deeper into reserves until we have a clearer picture of what the economy will look like,” said councilmember Ian Bain.
Redwood City leaders will be meeting with representatives from the firefighters union over the next few months to come to an agreement on where to tighten the budget. They hope to have a definite plan in place by the beginning of next year.