More of the same inaction from El Cerrito City Council on the budget-When is enough enough?

The El Cerrito City Council continues to refuse to take real action on the budget.

I will start this post by stating that Councilperson Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto was a superstar during the meeting and she would have taken action. I will also be honest and say that I did not watch the entire meeting. I did watch every section where I share quotes here. I tried to make quotes as close to verbatim as possible but that was not always possible and some statements were not included. I do not believe that changes the context but encourage you to go to the the video link and verify for yourselves. I have indicated the time of the quotes so that people can watch for themselves. 

I am going to outline several big issues.

  1. Minimization of the bond rating drop.

At 3:22 Karen minimized the bond drop because S&P stated the outlook was stable from negative. She stated that the TRAN rating is different and acted as if this rating would not affect our interest costs for the next TRAN. This is our credit rating. Karen said that S&P had been monitoring council meetings and she stated because the council made cuts we got a stable outlook. Then Karen said if the city borrowed more money it would cost the city more money. So, it is confusing that she says the TRAN rating is different because this does mean we will pay more interest. It was stated that it will impact any financing for any capital improvements.

2. Why is the city ignoring the massively rising costs of Cal-Pers?

You will see in the above chart Cal-Pers costs are broken out into normal cost which is the current costs and the unfunded liability, which is what is unfunded from years the city did not pay into the system (that is a long story and something many cities chose to do)

In the meeting at 2:33, Karen says that the projected amount of the unfunded liabilities is 4.8 million. 

At 2:45 in the video Councilperson, Pardue-Okimoto brought up that the city’s liability increased from $61.8 million to $88.2 million per year. That represents approximately $2 million per year in additional costs. She reminded people that it is something that we should be preparing for now.

Karen responded with a statement about advocating with the state and monitoring costs but nothing about how this giant increase in costs would be paid for.  Remember it has taken us almost a year to get to the current 4 million in cuts done during this process.

3. Mark Rasiah’s incompetence. 

At 3:28 Mayor Lyman started questioning the Finance Director about financing costs. The Mayor was pointing out that the documents showed a savings of almost a million dollars in that line item and asked the Finance Director several times in several different ways if it was a real savings. Mark insisted that there was a real savings but that some of it was a cut in professional services costs. It is a very painful piece to listen to. The Mayor pointed out that if there was a 1 million dollar savings it should have been heralded and it should have also shown up in the bottom line neither of which happened. 

4. Councilperson Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto was a superstar

3:48 Councilperson Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto starts talking-this is not her complete statement but most highlights.

I do not think we are building our reserves as quickly as possible. It is up to the city council to make the hard decisions.

She brought up police department positions-bringing up the two positions were eliminated by the school board but not the council and the other position was already vacant

We stated we should show our values by our funding. She wants to protect the library and suggested putting it under the police department budget. She asked what will be the trigger for change? What if retirements do not happen? 

Another thing I brought up but did not get much support for is looking at our salaries…. Clearly shooting for the median is not working for us. I couldn’t help but think who hires and pays our consultants? Of course, the consultants are not going to say to the people who hire us and pay us, we think you should cut your own salaries. I personally do not like how we are comparing our salaries to big cities. I think we should compare our salaries to small cities. If we do not cut salaries, then we need to extend the furloughs in order to stay afloat. We need to do something now, and I do not think this budget does that.

We need to budget for disaster. We need to prepare for that now. We need to prepare today for the disaster that can happen tomorrow. 

The weight of the Financial Advisory Board does not carry the weight with me anymore because they approved the previous budget that helped us land in this position. I was listening in at FAB and someone asked the city manager why the city is waiting until January to do these layoffs and the city manager replied because the city council thought that would be best. I remember thinking I don’t remember being asked about that. It is all semantics. They present us with something and we vote YES and then it comes back that it was our decision. Where does it really come from? 

3:55 If I had to make these cuts, I would have made them a lot sooner. At the end of the day, the residents are looking to the city council to make these cuts. I depended on the advice of the FAB in the past at the end of the day it is us that the residents expect to make these decisions. I don’t want to look back on this and have more regrets. I will be voting NO on this budget.

#5 More of the same from other council members

Councilperson Quinto keeps saying he was deceived and that big austerity cuts need to happen but says he will vote yes on the budget. Councilperson Paul Fadelli says let’s pass this to show we are doing something (4:03). Let’s pass the buck to the state auditor. 

Councilperson Quinto at 3:57

 I am going to support this budget. It changes every day and will continue to do so. We need to look at it monthly and we will have to make more cuts and it is all about austerity. The independent auditor was telling the truth. We need checks and balances. We have not been getting this for the last 15 years, we have had the same progressive council that agrees on everything. We cannot do that anymore. We have a city manager now that tells it like it is and doesn’t give a rosy picture. We’ve done three taxes since I’ve been an elected official in six years. We are still spending, spending, spending, and we need more cuts. I look forward to the new council that will help me make these cuts. This is going to be a painful next three years. We just did the wrong thing, and it is nobody’s fault. What I learned is to not listen to your colleagues. They have their own agendas and are lying.

Councilperson Quinto attacks his colleagues for lying to him and stated that the newspapers were right years ago when they said the city was not prepared but he chose not to believe them.

It is very confusing to this writer that he talks about the need to not have unanimous votes and how he wants a NEW council to help him make cuts since this council won’t do it. But he is going to vote for the terrible budget anyway instead of showing the courage of Councilperson Pardue-Okimoto

Councilperson Abelson moved at 4:16 to pass the budget and Councilperson Quinto seconded it and it was passed 4-1 with Councilperson Pardue-Okimoto being the one no vote. 

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