City Manager goes scorched earth with cuts

I will be honest. This is a very hard post to write. While I expected the City Manager to do exactly what she did with her proposed cuts reading her memo raised my blood pressure through the roof.

This blog, along with many members of the public, have been asking for more cuts since September 2020. We were repeatedly told they were studying things and they needed until the end of the year to figure things out. Then in January 2021 the Mayor and City Manager decided to not update the budget at the one meeting. So six months of potential cuts were lost. Now the City Manager dares to put in her staff report the following

“Further, it is difficult to prepare various scenarios in such a short timeframe, and it does not allow for engagement with the community. Staff is concerned that making drastic changes in this short timeframe does not allow the public to provide meaningful feedback and help the City Council prioritize.”

So after ignoring the public for six months suddenly the City Manager wants to engage the public.

She also says

“Instead of implementing this level of reductions during this fiscal year, City staff strongly recommends that the City Council seek to consider long-term, structural reductions that would take effect in the next fiscal year budget. The City Council will be provided with additional information at the upcoming City Council meetings that will better inform the Council and the public, including a presentation on the City’s CalPERS pension liability and discussion of the five-year budget forecast in March. City staff further recommends that a community meeting be held following these
presentations so that the public can provide feedback to the City Council on the budget. While it is true that additional reductions result in achieving our General Fund Balance goals more quickly, the results of a reduction in the amount of $1 million in the final four months of this fiscal year will have severe impacts. Staff recommends a strategic approach that continues the progress that has been attained thus far, maintains the Fiscal Response Plan, and allows the City to achieve our goals in a way that still provides an adequate level of services to our residents and businesses.”

It is indeed true that 1 million in cuts (at least the ones she recommended) would be devastating to services. She put it off for six months and then presented a scorched earth proposal to motivate the city council to agree with her recommendation to only cut around $300k. And the goal of the cuts she said she proposed was to reestablish an end balance of $664K which was what the original budget had. She did not even do that. The ending projected budget balance is $524k. Now over the first seven months, we are running a deficit of $1.04 million which is about $142k a month. We have five months left in the Fiscal Year. If we continue to run a deficit on that level it would be another $714k which would wipe out the balance and end the year with a negative balance of $190K.

What I would like to see happen at the next city council meeting:

  1. An acknowledgment that cuts should have been made sooner
  2. A questioning of the City manager as to why the proposed FY budget surplus is now $100k less than the original budget. The last meeting she said she would be making recommendations of cuts to match the original projected budget surplus.
  3. A new request for cuts to be made this FY and that can be carried into next FY to at least get us to 1 million in proposed surplus. So if police positions were cut they would be cut throughout the next fiscal year also. An additional $500k in cuts now would reflect in a 2 million set of cuts for next year which would put us on a real track to pay off the TRAN and build the reserve.
  4. These cuts look at other things to cut like management salaries also.

Working with the City Manager’s cuts of 1 million dollars and reducing the total by half you could do the following:

$60K in city management 1 FTE

$63,800 in Community Development 1FTE

$30,000 in Finance 1 FTE

$50,400 Public Works 1 FTE

$315 for 6 FTE in police department. Reduce this in half to 3 FTE so $157,500. This would be a cut through next FY also.

$441,500 for FD 9 FTE- leave the staff positions alone and ask the FD Captain to make cuts of $75,000. He has stated in his report that a 5% reduction in pay over 4 months would be $178k so a 2.5% cuts would be an $89K savings. And perhaps that could be even more played out with the very well paid battalion chefs and above taking a 3% cut and the lower paid staff a 2% cut.

Add a 3% Higher Management Salary Cut Value Approximate value of $29,250. This is a back of the napkin figure.

Leave recreation alone as that department has already taken severe cuts and it is generally a revenue generator.

This series of cuts would create $465K in additional cuts and could bring the surplus at the end of the year to $989,950.

It would also create almost two million in cuts through the next fiscal year.

It is worth mentioning that the police union had been negotiated with and made only a very minimal concession. If they had made a larger concession the impact to the department would be lessened.

And of course, you can play with those numbers and priorities. I left fire pretty well alone since that is a holy grail in El Cerrito. Additional recreation cuts would devastate services to the community that needs services the most, plus hopefully in the next six months Recreation Department will be revenue-generating again. I know there are two sides of the police debate so I split the difference keeping half the staff but still making a significant cut. I think looking at the currently very low crime rate numbers and the amount of calls the police actually go on is relevant here. When I get the blotter there is often one call a day.

We all knew that at this point in cuts that the pain would be serious. As Councilperson Motoyama said at the last meeting if everyone is upset we probably did the right thing. No one will be happy about these cuts. But the delay in action has cost us and we need serious action to right this ship. For the council to just accept what the City Manager has presented is in my opinion negligent to the city. Please council members make the tough decisions!

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