Residents Pitch In To Keep Calif. Town Afloat

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Small towns all over the country are feeling the recession's pinch and Gilroy, Calif., is no different. The town faces a cut of at least $2 million in tax revenues and a deficit of $4.7 million. But residents are volunteering to help with police patrols and staff the city's museum. Mayor Al Pinheiro says residents have taken it upon themselves to organize the town's Memorial Day parade.

DAVID GREENE, host:

This Memorial Day we want to tell you about a place where the show will go on -Gilroy, California. It's a town of 52,000 people in Santa Clara County. Its claim to fame is being the garlic capital of the world and also home to a beloved Memorial Day Parade. Well, this year the economic crisis has meant smaller budgets and smaller staffs for many local governments, including Gilroy. And the town nearly decided to cancel today's parade, but Gilroy Mayor Al Pinheiro is going to tell us why they didn't. Mayor, thank you for joining us.

Mayor AL PINHEIRO (Gilroy, California): Well, thank you very much. I appreciate the invitation. And we have a great community of volunteers and people that step up in the toughest of times. And this was no exception.

GREENE: Yeah, I understand that Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in your state has been talking about, you know, a lot of sacrifice from local governments. Give us a sense for how tough these times have been and how you've really been feeling it.

Mayor PINHEIRO: Well, I don't know how much more sacrifice he thinks that local governments need to have, but I'll tell you, Gilroy has been an example of a community of 50-plus thousand people that have kept their houses in order for many, many years. And as of last November we were identifying that we were going to have about a $2.8 million deficit for year '08-'09. And we had to close gaps. And we did. We laid off 48 people from our city. And we are finding ourselves still - at the end of this year we're going to end up with about $3.7 million deficit.

GREENE: As you talk about laying off what sounds like dozens of city employees, what is sacred? What do you feel like you can't cut?

Mayor PINHEIRO: Sacred to a certain extent is our police and fire, because we need to keep folks safe and have the ability to respond to emergencies and so on. Right now they're taking about 75 percent of every dollar that we spend in this city. When you get down to where that other quarter is pretty much depleted because you've let people go and you've done what you can, then that 75 percent has to be touched.

GREENE: So if you're looking for every last dollar why not just cancel the parade this year?

Mayor PINHEIRO: Because in this case the community spoke by stepping up with volunteers and with the funds that it takes to put on a parade. It's all about family and a community that has to still stay together. I mean, because if we become just a police and fire city then I'm not sure I want to live here.

GREENE: Set the scene for me, Mr. Mayor. Where is your favorite spot to stand to watch the parade and what are you going to be seeing from the vantage point?

Mayor PINHEIRO: Well, I'm not a mayor that rides in a car with the Mayor of Gilroy on the outside.

GREENE: You're not going to be in the back of that limousine waving at everybody?

Mayor PINHEIRO: I'm not on the back of the car. I have this thing that I started many years ago. I am the founding president of a club called the Gilroy Exchange Club, which is a national organization. And one of our programs is called Give a Kid a Flag to Wave. There's maybe 20 of us. We are the first ones in the parade. And we go up the parade route and we give kids a flag. So that's what your mayor does in the Gilroy Memorial Day Parade.

GREENE: Well, Mr. Mayor, enjoy handing out those flags along the parade route.

Mayor PINHEIRO: I appreciate your taking the time to having this interview. And I wish you nothing but the best and Happy Memorial Day.

GREENE: To you, too. We've been listening to Al Pinheiro who is the mayor of Gilroy, California. Mayor, thank you.

Mayor PINHEIRO: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

GREENE: This is NPR News.

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