So bad news is the budget passed without structural cuts to address our severe financial problems. It appears most of the City Council and the City Manager are content to use the federal bailout money to address some of the reserve issues. This can be fine for the two years we get the money but afterward, we will be even worse than we are now! Pension costs are growing quickly!
On a positive note Councilpersons, Rudnick and Motoyama voted NO! I believe this is the first time a budget vote was not 5-0. Those are the Council members on the AdHoc Finance Committee and the ones we believe understand the budget best. So good for them. I hope it is the beginning of doing things differently in El Cerrito.
There will need to be budget amendments for the federal ARPA funds so we can continue to push for structural cuts.
I also saw on Facebook that Mayor Fadelli is now having office hours at the El Cerrito Natural Foods Annex beginning July 15th from 9-11 am. I encourage those who want to understand more about why Mayor Fadelli voted yes on this budget to attend.
He and Councilperson Rudnick are the only Council members to have such meetings. I would also encourage you to ask Councilperson Quinto to have such meetings. He has repeatedly stated we need cuts and he frequently uses the term austerity but he never suggests concrete cuts and he has voted yes for every budget. He did vote to cut the library hours before changing his mind and voting to keep them. Even though with his vote he again stated cuts needed to be made as he voted to stop a cut. (not that I disagree with saving the library but it seems he says one thing and then did another)
Councilperson Abelson has been on the council since 1999 and therefore has been a part of all the decisions that have lead us to this point. I would also encourage people to request meetings with her.
What would be great moving forward
- The Ad-Hoc Committee changes how the budget process runs. Maybe develop a time frame and guideposts for the City Manager. It is typical in many locations for this process to begin in January! This allows ample time to dig deep into the budget without long meetings past half the publics’ bedtime.
- There needs to be a comprehensive plan as to how we will meet our reserve goals. The State Auditor recommended a Fiscal Response Plan and from what we have seen no comprehensive plan has been developed.
- There needs to be real forecasting using a 5-year budget. Here is an example of San Jose’s budget document. I recognize San Jose has more resources but there are things in this document we can be doing. They forecast for 5 years and do three different forecasts including an optimistic one and a pessimistic one. They are transparent as to their issues and deficit. There is an entire page (page 10) that outlines Budget Balancing Strategy Guidelines. Their budget schedule, starting in January, is on page 20. In one of the Management Partners contracts, one of their stated projects was to develop a forecasting tool. When I have done public records requests as of this point there is no tool that they have developed. Perhaps we need to invest in developing a tool if this is not something that the Finance Director can do.
- Cut back the City Managers spending authority. It is currently $45,000. Richmond’s City Manager’s authority is $10,000. In the recent management staff resolution, it was stated that the City Manager had some authority to raise salaries and provide a car for staff as needed. This needs to be evaluated. This is the same City Manager that had almost the entire Management staff getting a substantial car allowance.