Will the Community Fight For Fiscal Responsibility?-El Cerrito Budget Update Part 1

It has been a long time since I posted. This writer is going to be leaving El Cerrito and it has been hard to motivate myself to continue with the blog. This blog has filled a void by informing residents about the Fiscal Crisis and I feel sad that it may not continue. There is a committed group of residents that have been working behind the scenes for a few years. Please if you care about the city email me at eccfrg@gmail.com and I can get you connected. The group can use people who can do some report backs from the Financial Advisory Board (FAB) and Council Meetings. They can use some people to help get the word out via this blog and social media. If others don’t step up all the work thus far may have been for naught.

I am ending with a three-part update. This can catch people up as to what has been happening or not around fiscal sustainability in El Cerrito. I will post one post each day for the next three days.

Study Session – Fiscal Recovery and Sustainability Plan-Last Meeting on August 31, 2021. 

I will admit I did not attend this meeting. I was so frustrated about the lack of publicity for it and the scheduling at 4 pm on a workday that I thought it a waste of time. Today I reviewed the slide set and saw that the Plan had made some major improvements since the first meeting.

The first thing to be very clear about is that the only reason El Cerrito is doing okay right now is the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Without those funds, our situation would continue to be dire. With those funds, we could be on the path for change IF pension issues are addressed in a meaningful manner.

A few highlights from the report:

This first slide is an accurate statement as to what is needed on the road to sustainability. I am especially pleased that strengthen transparency and community trust is called out. This is something I have been begging for. They also call out monitoring key financial drivers including PERS (pension plan) which is something that has been missing and is a significant piece of the future. The pension issue could bankrupt the city if not addressed.

Below they also state their key assumptions. This is something that we have long asked the Finance Director to do. The two assumptions I am concerned about are the flexible COLA assumption since the represented employees have been reluctant to give back anything. Any COLAS not taken these last few years were deferred and I believe in 2022 they will get COLAS again. It also assumes no recession through FY 32-33 which seems rather improbable. That being said I understand that it would be hard to predict what the next recession will look like. I also hope the Cannabis revenues are not overstated. They are anticipating 300k a year from each of the two of them. One is not open yet.

The next few slides show how bad shape we would be in without the Rescue Funds. This proves my point of how that money is saving this city. It does have us obtaining a real reserve quickly. Which is great. My concern is that this report and the City as a whole are not addressing the Pension Issue which I suspect could change everything. I hope before the Council approves this document they ask for some data on that issue.

The fo

This document is a reasonable start. Before it is approved I suggest the Council ask for more data on how the pension costs factor into each of these scenarios. It appears to be a huge missing piece. I also hope that the Council uses this document to hold the City Manager accountable. She has been historically anti-transparency. Transparency is the only thing that might build community trust again. I hope the Council holds her to it. I believe based on last year her evaluation is coming up in December or January. I hope the Committee assigned to do it includes one or both of the Council Ad-Hoc Committee members as they seem to best understand how the City Manager is navigating the budget. While the public is not permitted to see this document I hope it is an honest reflection of her work. I also hope it sets some quantifiable goals for her progress.

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