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Would This Work Here? California Town Confronts Deficit
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Would This Work Here?

Honolulu Star-Bulletin Thursday, October 15, 1992


Like just about everywhere else in this country these days, this town is fed up with budget deficits.

But unlike just about everywhere else, the city fathers of this small Central California town decided to do something about it-- they fired the entire city staff.

Six full-time and six part-time employees -- including the public works director, the librarian and the three-officer police force -- were given pink slips last month in the face of a $120,000 debt.

Welcome to the new era of volunteers and private contractors for essential services, said Mayor Steve Hambacher.

That is how this town of 1,650 people, known for its Wild West mentality and its historic mission, will get by from now on, along with a police presence provided by the San Benito County Sheriff's Department and the existing volunteer fire department.

Russ Carlsen, the interim city manager brought in to manage the transition, said rising expenditures that led to debts of up to $20,000 per month have now been stabilized, and he hopes to pay off the deficit within nine months. But the new volunteer-contracting policy is expected to continue indefinitely.

"All we're doing is looking at alternative ways of providing the same service to the public that we were before and empowering the public to do some of the work themselves," said Carlsen.

San Juan Bautista has a strong tradition of not fooling around in the face of adversity. In 1990, voters recalled the mayor and two city councilmen for being "high-handed and intimidating" in their approach to city government.

"It's always a bloodbath in San Juan," a recall organizer said then. "People go to council meetings instead of watching 'Jeopardy.'"

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