Last week I wrote a post updating you all on the current status of the budget. I brought up some points that were reiterated in the 8/16/22 Council Meeting. The question I have is this 22/23 budget sustainable and are the forecasts accurate?
The first issue is the Transfer Tax.
I brought that up in the last post but William Ktsanes, who is also Vice-Chair of the Financial Advisory Board (FAB), wrote a lengthy comment about his concerns about the Real Estate Transfer Tax that was submitted as a public comment.. (pgs. 10-14) His projected scenarios are 1 million less in income than the El Cerrito scenario. Now Mr. Ktsanes says he could be wrong, but on the other hand, he could be correct. If he is correct, that money will wipe out any surplus in the budget.
The second issue is inconsistencies and confusion in the budget.
The budget also has $465K in one-time projects that were not included in the budget document. Yea as I type this I get that does not make sense. They have listed the projects, but they did not subtract them from the budget. If you remember from the last post, there was an 812K surplus (not the FAB recommended 1 million) and there is this 465 K in expenses which, if subtracted, bring the surplus to 347K. You may also remember FAB asked the council to put a million dollar surplus in last year. You can see below the surplus as amended was a little less than 600k. This is not the way to be building a reserve. The reserve is all there because of ARPA (bailout) money and a strong real estate market which meant lots of dollars for the real property transfer tax.
The forecast document below also shows a concerningly low 3% inflation rate estimated. If there is anything we have all heard a ton about this year it is about how high the inflation rate currently is. According to the Bay Area CPI it is not 3% but is 6%. It should be forecast as such for this year with a higher than 3% rate again next year.
The third concern is pension costs
The pension issue is the worst of El Cerrito’s financial issues and the one they have not addressed at all. CalPERS suffered significant losses in FY 2022, which will not show up for another year in municipal budgets, but it is likely to sting. A change in the discount rate is also likely coming in another year or so. You can see how the unfunded liability costs have increased since last year. We can expect a bigger leap next year.
Is this budget sustainable? I think this year we will be fine if only because of the second 3.1 million in bail-out funds. The city will probably contribute less to the reserve than estimated. I do think the future projections continue to minimize the increasing pension problem and we are in trouble next year 23/24. There still have not been the structural changes necessary to stabilize this house of cards.