Is El Cerrito Making Data Driven Financial Decisions?

This coming Tuesday, August 11th El Cerrito is having another meeting to discuss the budget. The consultants are recommending at least an additional 1.5 million dollars in cuts occur. Their recommendations are as follows:

The problem with both the 1.5 million dollar number and the recommendations that are made is that there is no specificity to them. We don’t know where the 1.5 million dollar number came from. What were the assumptions that created that number? How long are they predicting the shelter in place order will last? Are they looking at the latest economic numbers which were horrific? Given that we just took out an 8.5 million dollar loan to stay afloat all decisions moving forward be both data-driven and transparent. Having a packet of vague information does not allow residents to make adequate public comments for the meeting.

Some of us have been trying hard to analyze the budget and how decisions are made. We have been focusing on the Fire and Police Departments since those are half the city’s budget. I made several information requests to see how the city decided to not hire additional fire personal but rather pay overtime. I also requested information on how the amount of money to charge Kensington for their fire protection contract was determined.

For the Kensington contract, I was told there were no records responsive to my request. Which means there is no financial analysis of how El Cerrito determines the cost of the Kensington contract. The city could be benefiting greatly or being hurt financially-we simply do not know without financial analysis.

Regarding the OT I was given the chart below. It tells me how much a fire department employee costs the city. It does not have any analysis of OT hours and what they cost. I independently gathered data on fire department OT and put it together. Something that I believe the city staff should have been doing to decide to hire more staff or not. Again, the city may have made the correct decision but without data, we do not know.

Another person put in a request for information on the police department which is still pending. The request was for information on all police incidents over the past two years breaking them down into the type of incident and categories along with resolutions. We thought this would be an easy request that this data would be tracked. This is not the case. We were told there were numerous records to go through in order to obtain the information. Further upsetting was that the response was from an outside lawyer. Which means this request is costing the city money to obtain. Not the intention of our group.

I hope people will again make public comments at the meeting. The information on how to attend and make comment is at the bottom of this post. Please note this is a 4:30pm meeting.

I am suggesting
1. A monthly financial report given to the city council and published online. This should be an easily readable document summing up income and expenses and how they are tracing for the fiscal year. This way if the estimate of the 1.5 million is to late there can be quick action taken. It also increases transparency.

2. When there are recommendations put into slides they be very specific. What are these PD and FD staffing changes? What is this reduction in city administration? Are they job losses are something else.

3. Whenever there are staff predictions on how the finances are going we need written assumptions that go along with them. For example 1.5 million in cuts is based on a reduced sales tax income of 2% until June 2021. Etc. This allows us to see if the predictions are going far enough forward in time. I understand that things are fluctuating faster than usual and that assumptions may change over time and even quickly but the residents deserve to know what is behind each assumption.

To watch the meeting


Event Number:146 528 6824
Event Password: Jfq2ZS


Dial In: 1­-408­-418­-9388
Access Code:
146 528 6824

To make public comment for the meeting

If you are watching live using WebEx you can use the “Raise Hand” feature to request to speak. Each period of public comment will be announced.

To send in comment do the following-If the comment gets there 3 hours prior to the meeting it is submitted to the council in writing ahead of the meeting. If it is later than that the council will get the written comment in the supplemental packet. The city clerk is no longer reading the comments into the record, later. The agenda item for this financial item is 3A.

Via email to Email must contain in the subject line public comments – not on the agenda or public comments – agenda item #. The agenda item for this financial item is 3A.

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