By Ted AYALA
Steve Zurn, the city’s newly appointed head of Glendale Water & Power (GWP), wasted no time in tackling the problems the utility faces. Zurn explained to the GWP Commission at its Monday meeting how he will seek to restructure the agency in order to stave off the budget gap it faces.
“To get to the cost containment, we’re going to have to do a little bit of work,” said Zurn. “It’s going to be painful. But that’s where we need to go.”
Most notable was his announcement to shave off up to 35 jobs, including top managerial positions, from the GWP’s payroll in the next year. He also warned the commission of further job cuts. While some affected employees will be laidoff outright, others may qualify for early retirement.
The water company side of the GWP is particularly ailing, Zurn pointed out. Even with rate increases and a bond measure, reductions in that department will still be necessary, he said.
As it stands, the water department is over $21 million in deficit, offset only by the electrical department’s $72.5 million, leaving the GWP with a net cash balance of $56 million – well under the $127 million minimum set by the Glendale City Council.
“This isn’t going to be a number we can just dig our way out of in a few months,” said Zurn.
He also announced a rate hike for GWP customers scheduled for implementation in spring 2013. Earlier this year Zurn held public meetings where a 3% rate hike next year – the first of a total 14.7% increase to be drawn out over four years – was proposed.
“It’ll take us a few years to get us back to where we want to be,” said Zurn. “And I have every intention of getting us there.”
In other news, a divided city council formally approved tightening restrictions on smoking discussed at last week’s meeting. The council’s unwillingness to loosen restrictions on smoking for outdoor dining areas brought criticism from local businesses and dissenting councilmembers.
“People shouldn’t have to put up with [smoking] in an outdoor area,” said Councilmember Laura Friedman.
Several speakers from the public voiced their approval of the restrictions. Mason Fong, a Glendale condo owner since 2009, was among those urging the council to tighten restrictions on smoking.
“This does help prevent exposure to second-hand smoke,” he said. “There is no safe level of second-hand smoke. I remember when there were smoking and non-smoking sections in California. It was kind of a joke. Please uphold the ordinance. What we have is good.”