The Town Hall meeting was today. It went about the way many of us expected. The staff took up entirely too much airtime dominating the first hour of the meeting. Then they quickly jumped to we want to listen to our residents. Which in theory is a good thing. Except that a lot of residents have not felt heard on other issues like building permits so spoke here on that issue. Not that I can blame them. You have the right to fight for your own needs but I am not certain that is a budget issue. It also meant very few questions in the chat were answered and even with the comments very few questions were answered.
I am not entirely sure what was accomplished. They did say that next week the chat comments would be posted. And there might be some answers there. If there were that would be great.
So here are a few observations in no particular order.
1. Councilperson Abelson did not attend. Councilperson Abelson’s seat is up for election in 2022.
2. The staff continues to express things in what feels like the most confusing manner possible. Their way makes them look better. So I asked a question about why if the slide set said 4 million in cuts were identified were expenditures this year down only 600k. First time I asked I got shut down in the chat. The second time (and when others asked also) we got an explanation that I think goes as follows
When we were planning the budget it was “suppose to be” X millions of dollars. I believe “supposed to be” includes an overall 3% increase in budgets based on what has been said in the past and the state auditors report. So when they cut from suppose to be (ie an increase for each department that had not been in a prior budget) they count it as an actual cut. Just like when they cut open police positions that were not be paid for and called that a cut. So no one (and I believe this includes the city council, not just us) knows what level of TRUE cuts have been made.
3. Mark Rasiah, the Finance Director, was noticeably absent from most of the meeting. He did take one question.
4. We need to understand what amount in the budget is going to pension liability. It needs to be broken out.
5. One person speaking about police cuts spoke about being racially profiled and pulled over often. That issue is beyond the scope of this blog but I hope that the City fully investigates these very serious allegations.
6. It appears 77 people signed on for the meeting. For a poorly advertised event on a sunny Saturday morning that was impressive.
7. A few people are proposing a City Oversight Committee. Since the Financial Advisory Board (FAB) is run by the Finance Director, making it ineffectual, it seems like something needs to change. A few options include a City Oversight Committee or turning the FAB into an actual commission to give it some actual power. FAB also needs more members. For some of the County Boards, there are alternates on the Board so that if a regular member is not there the meetings still occur. The alternate can always participate but can only vote if the regular member is absent.
8. How is the City going to promote great transparency? We were told at last year’s Town Hall meeting that there would be a web location where there would be one-stop shopping for the information. That has not happened. Which leads to us making public records requests. Which leads to the City staff feeling overwhelmed and getting upset with us. Seems like if they just got the data on the website everyone would be happier.
So things I would like to have follow up on
1. Putting either the restructuring of FAB or a creation of a new advisory board or task force on the City Council agenda for real discussion. The City Manager herself acknowledged that there is a lack of trust right now. Build trust by engaging the community. There are many of us out here ready and willing to help.
2. Getting good data to the public, the FAB, and the City Council. Good data includes using excel spreadsheets so our data geeks can analyze. This includes having the information broken down as much as possible. We should be able to see every department and what they are spending on everything. Consultants, transportation, pensions, salaries, office supplies. Every detail. We should also be able to access historical data.
3. Making and following long-term plans with real-time forecasting including a publication of all the assumptions. Many times we have had questions about how the Finance Director has made his assumptions. I have questioned his assumptions all year on recreation funding. I am no numbers person but I was predicting larger drops in revenue way before he was. Because of Covid.
4. Answering the unanswered questions particularly:
A. How are we going to deal with our massive pension liability?
B. What happened and is currently going on in regards to the budget overrides?
C. The budget was cut. How did that show up in actual spending reductions?
D. Did the city promise no layoffs in exchange for Cola deferrals. Do they have to give raises if they lay off public safety?
E. Was so much cut in admin that they can’t manage?
F. Why did they defer the COLA’s knowing that in 2-3 years they would face greater expenditures?
G. Are there ever going to be structural changes?
H. What level of cuts needs to be made for FY 21/22? I thought the City Manager was recommending 2 million in cuts a few meetings ago but nothing has really been said since?
I. The state auditor mentioned that spending increased by $10 million from 2014-2019. Where did all that money go?