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Community Calls for Watsonville’s City Council to Save Sports Programs

Watsonville faces tough cuts with projected $6.5 million budget deficit

Children warm up on the soccer field at Ramsay Park. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

The city of Watsonville will have to make several tough cuts to meet a projected $6.5 million budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year. 

But more than two dozen community members defending the value of youth sports programs at Tuesday’s virtual City Council meeting urged the council to not balance its budget on the backs of young people. Instead, they asked the council to trim from other departments to keep the city’s recreational and competitive soccer programs running.

In its draft budget presented Tuesday, the city proposed a $3 million cut to salaries and benefits. It is also trying to save $1.3 million by trimming its discretionary spending and dipping into its Measure Y and cannabis tax funds.

Staff is asking the council to use half of its $4.4 million emergency fund balance to make up for the massive drop in revenue as a result of the shelter-in-place restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Included in those cuts is the city’s entire sports program budget and five employees, three of which work for the Parks and Community Services (PCS) department.

The city said it is cutting youth sports because those programs are currently—and, they believe, will continue to be—prohibited because of the physical distancing and shelter-in-place restrictions. But community members assert that the state and county are loosening restrictions quicker than expected and that it would be shortsighted for the council to cut those programs for the rest of the fiscal year.

Those community members were also frustrated that parks and youth programs were again bearing the brunt of the budget cuts. 

“If we don’t have money for kids,” Carlos Campos wrote in an email read to the council, “what are we saying about our future?”

The council is expected to finalize the budget at its June 23 meeting, but much could change in the days leading up to that date. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom and state health officials have picked up the pace at which they are moving through their “Resilience Roadmap,” allowing movie theaters, gyms and bars to reopen starting this weekend.

At the federal level, the HEROES Act has proposed $375 billion to help local governments repair their shredded budgets. That bill, however, has stalled after being passed in the Senate, and faces opposition from many Republican lawmakers.

Because of that volatility, Watsonville Finance Department Director Cindy Czerwin said she will provide the council quarterly updates, and ask for changes as they are needed. Her first update will come in late August when the city will have a clearer picture of its property and sales tax numbers. She will then return in November and again in February, though she did say she was willing to provide reports to the council with more regularity.

“We’re going to have to be amazingly flexible,” Czerwin said.

The city received two dozen emails, and another dozen people called into the meeting to voice their support of the youth sports programs. Many said they grew up playing sports through the city’s programs, and a handful of kids wrote emails to the council asking them to keep the programs funded.

Watsonville Recreation Coordinator Jenny Vivenzi, who is one of three PCS employees on the chopping block, called into the meeting to advocate for the programs and also coordinated calls with a trio of volunteer soccer coaches.

Most of those comments did little to sway the council, as the majority of councilmembers said the decision was out of their hands because of the Covid-19 restrictions.

Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez was the lone councilmember who asked staff to look for funding for the programs elsewhere, suggesting they trim the council’s benefits even further than their already proposed 50% cut.

Czerwin and City Manager Matt Huffaker during the meeting said they received late word that the Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust would help fund some of the programs if the city did indeed follow through with the proposed cuts.

The majority of next year’s projected deficit is a result of the countywide shelter-in-place restrictions. The city’s sales tax—21% of the general fund’s yearly revenue—is expected to be down 26.3%.

Along with the five aforementioned layoffs, the city also plans to reassign two employees to other positions. Other employees have agreed to take one day off per month without pay through the end of the calendar year, and the city also saved $1.3 million by eliminating roughly 27 vacant positions.

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