Continued frustration with lack of movement on the budget issues

I have been lax in posting. The last council meeting was April 20, 2021, and the State Audit report was on the agenda.

First the good news

  1. Mayor Fadelli introduced the following motion which passed. He initially proposed it as 75% of the fed money to reserve and Councilperson Rudnick asked it to be 80%. It was a 5-0 vote.

“I MOVE that the City shall follow through and respond, as financially able, to the recommendations made by the March 2021 State Audit Report, that seek to increase transparency of the City’s budget process and provide City Council members with the information needed to make more informed budgetary decisions; and

I MOVE the City shall prepare a plan and work with Council in ways to encourage and implement additional annual CalPERS contributions from all city employees; and

I MOVE that the City shall update Council on the federal funds that may come from the American Rescue Plan Act and, make plans in the immediate future for Council to approve deposit of no less than 80% of those total funds into El Cerrito Reserve Fund.”

2. Councilpersons Rudnick and Motoyama are now going to form a subcommittee to help staff address state audit issues. This is great! They are the two councilpersons who seemed to have the strongest understanding of these issues and neither of them was on council when the mess was created.

3. Councilperson Motoyama pushed for a motion to link performance evaluations to budget performance. Though the city attorney weakened it this writer believes a strong message was sent to the City Manager and staff that these things are now related. As they should be. Councilperson Motoyama gets our hero of the meeting for this.

Now the bad news. 

  1. Our fiscal year starts July 1st and there has been no work that the public can see on the budget. Here is the county process. You will note they start in January. They just had budget hearings on April 20, 2021. Their budget is larger and more complex but starting a process in May for a July 1st budget is NOT enough time for public input.
  2. A few months ago the City Manager and Finance Director proposed 2 million in structural cuts for the next year. We have heard nothing about this since. We all know that amount of cuts is going to have a large community impact and there needs to be ample time for the public to weigh in with their thoughts. This is why the city needs a structured budget process that starts at the beginning of the year like the county.
  3. There is suppose to be some sort of budget workshop on May 8th. That is 8 days from today. There is no information on the city website about the meeting. There is a listing that shows it but if you click through there is no agenda or information on the meeting. THAT IS TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE. People make plans for their weekends more than 8 days in advance. There has been no public outreach in regards to this meeting. Concerned community members want to do the outreach for the city but how do we do outreach when there is no information available to share?

Other Budget News

The City Manager entered into a new $45,000 contract with Management Partners to do the following.

We have a contract to deliver budget-related work products but there has been no information about this online or at the meetings. This contract will not exceed $45,000 which is the exact amount the City Manager can contract without City Council approval. It is also about 45% of the amount of the compensation study the City Manager has been resisting. Well, she says she wants it but can’t afford the budget or staff time. At the last meeting Councilperson Rudnick did suggest that we can use some of the bail-out money for that study which was recommended by the state auditor. We concur with that as an appropriate use of the one-time monies. Since 80% will go to reserve there is 20% remaining and it makes sense to use it for some one-time investments like stronger financial systems and a long-overdue compensation study.

This contract was entered into July 1, 2020, and ends July 30, 2021. We are getting close to the end of the project and have not heard at all about any of these work products. I am doing a public records request today on any information on any of them. Have Management Partners been doing financial forecast updates? What is the forecast tool?

To sum up 

  1. The City continues to not address structural cuts that are necessary.
  2. The City continues to have issues with transparency and public engagement.
  3. The City needs to create a comprehensive budget process.
  4. The City needs to make structural changes to how they are reporting financial information to the Council.

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