City Council Meeting June 15th

I will be honest a bunch of us dedicated budget/council watchers viewed some or all of the meeting. Afterwards, we had a few debates as to what happened. This is how convoluted this process is. Even people well versed in the dysfunction of the El Cerrito government can’t always keep up with the what is going on. A cynical person might believe that is the intent of having these discussions between 10-11pm at night.

I will start with what I know happened.

  1. Library Hours-There was lots of public comment. All in support of keeping the hours. At 8:48 pm Councilperson Rudnick made a motion to save the hours with a second by Mayor Fadelli. At 9 pm Councilperson Motoyama gave an impassioned speech about the library but also saying that the long-term financial picture is more important here. Councilperson Rudnick then gave an impassioned speech on why these hours are critical. At around 9:25 pm they voted 4-1 to keep the hours and move them to a non-departmental line. That was something pushed by Councilperson Abelson. Councilperson Quinto spoke about the need to make cuts in every department but then voted to save the hours. Councilperson Motoyama voted no. While I personally disagree with her vote I do appreciate that she made the vote from a place of integrity. She seems to be the Councilperson most committed to getting cuts made. I don’t agree with that cut but I appreciate her dedication to creating change. I also appreciate Councilperson Rudnick for her part in saving those hours.

2. Pension Fund-Councilperson Motoyama wants to allot money for a Section 115 reserve fund to help address our YUGE unfunded pension liability. She wanted to use the library money to partially fund it. It ended as a motion to begin the process for the Request for Funding to get it set up. There will be further discussion on how to fund it and the costs to establish the fund. This vote was 5-0. While I cannot explain Section 115 well it is a positive outcome. We need to start addressing our pension liabilities and this is a small but good first step. Now we need to get and keep it funded.

What was not clear. 

The Financial Advisory Board sent in a recommendation.

Here is the letter in its entirety

“To the members of the El Cerrito City Council: The FAB continued its review of the 2021-2022 proposed Budget Book at its June 8 meeting, and found that the budget presented to Council at the June 1 City Council meeting will not achieve the objective to put the City on a longer term path of sustainable financial health. As a result, the FAB makes the following recommendation: Prior to the June 30 deadline for adopting a 2021-2022 budget the Council should direct the Administration to prepare and present to Council at an additional budget meeting a proposed budget that includes the following:

A $1 million General Fund surplus that does not rely on the receipt of the ARPA funds;

A menu of options that could generate the $1 million surplus with explanations of impacts on residents;

For programs in the proposed Budget Book that contains material service reductions, an explanation of the impacts on residents.

Thank you.

Dick Patterson Chair – Financial Advisory Board”

Those of us that watched that FAB meeting thought it was clear that the recommendation was to have a 1 million surplus for 21/22. Not a surplus that included a carry-over from 20/21.

At the beginning of the council meeting Councilperson Rudnick suggested we only need to cut around $55,000 to meet the FAB recommendation. (This was before library hours being restored. ) We believe she took that information from the screenshot above. The General Fund Forecast shown above indicates a projected surplus at the end of 20/21 of $525,011 and then projects a surplus of $419,269 for 21/22 which means we would have a surplus of $944,280 at the end of 21/22. With an additional $55,000 we would have a million-dollar reserve as Councilperson Rudnick pointed out.

Given the way the FAB statement is worded, I can see where there might be confusion. I hope FAB clarifies their recommendation because obviously, people heard it to mean different things. Councilperson Rudnick did ask for clarification at the meeting and the Finance Director agreed with her. He attends the FAB meetings and I am confused as to why he did not clarify this point. At the end of the day the Council gets to decide whether or not to follow the FAB recommendation. If they choose not to follow the recommendation I believe they need to explain to the public why they made that choice.

10% of a 40 million budget is 4 million. In addition, we have a policy of having a 6 million Emergency Reserve. Our policies state we should have a total of 10 million in reserve. If we are putting away only $500k a year then it will take us 20 years to get a reserve that follows policy. 

What is not clear is if the City Manager will ever provide a menu of cuts as repeatedly requested by the Council, the public, and now the Financial Advisory Board. This was brought up again by several Councilmembers including that the menu have the impacts as suggested by FAB. The City Manager continues to kick the can and put off making cuts. How will the city ever be financially sound if we do not make cuts? Our pension costs are going to go through the roof in the next few years. Even with cuts we are right on the edge.

The City Manager seems to intend to use the Federal Funds to pull things together for the next few years rather than addressing the larger structural issues. The Council keeps not holding her accountable for this. I get that because of delays in when they began to plan for the budget it is hard to make that level in cuts in 2 weeks. But the City Manager has been asked for this before. Those federal dollars were meant to help mitigate covid impacts on communities not bail out poorly run communities. In other communities, they are using that money to help renters or business owners. In our community, it appears that we will cut services to seniors permanently and not help anyone but highly compensated management staff. With the cuts made to the senior programs the seniors no longer have a place to hang out and socialize. Nor do they have a computer lab. Seniors have been severely impacted by COVID. To cut these services now seems cruel. At a minimum, if we had the menu of cuts option the community could have decided to pick which things got cut. Maybe the community would say cut senior services and save other things. But they should have been asked.

What to expect and what to ask for at the next meeting. 

  1. I expect the City Manager to again not bring a menu of cuts. What we hope is that the City Council will push the issue and DEMAND a list of cuts and put a date on it. I understand it may have to be a budget amendment later but the CUTS need to happen in the 21/22 fiscal year. As early as possible.
  2. I would encourage residents to tell the council and staff to follow the FAB recommendations. I would also encourage them to demand the next budget process start somewhere around January or February of 2022 so that we can get a decent thoughtful budget by the July 1st deadline.
  3. I don’t expect the library cuts to come up again but I would not rule it out.
  4. Budgets now and moving forward need to be linked to a 5-year budget forecast that has the budget at the minimum 10 million reserves each year or include a very specific plan as to how we will arrive at that goal. This is in our financial policies. Follow the policies. This 20 year plan to get there is not okay.
  5. Both City Staff and the Council need to be held accountable for not taking this financial crisis seriously. Cutting small ticket items like library hours or one police car is not going to dig us out of this mess. We may need to invest some money into hiring a City Manager or consultant that is experienced in working with cities on the verge of bankruptcy. I hate to spend more money now but I believe the effects of bankruptcy would be pretty devastating and I am not confident we have the leadership to pull us out of this mess.

Preparing for the June 15th City Council Meeting

A lot went on at the last meeting Council Meeting. We expect that there will be extensive public comment at the next meeting because people are upset about the cuts to the library hours.

We would encourage the following talking points also.

1. Council members should reject the budget because it does not meet the criteria the Financial Advisory Board set for the budget to have a one million dollar surplus. This was set as a way of building our reserves back. In addition, this is a budget that states that senior services are cut back to the basics. However, there has been no disclosure of what those cuts are. How can the council vote on a budget without having specificity on cuts? This has not been a transparent process at all. Cuts are made and then buried in a long document. Or surprise cuts happen like with the library cuts. Council members and the community need to know what cuts are on the table and what they impact these cuts will have on the community.

2. We support the proposal Mayor Fadelli made last meeting for a percentage of the Transfer Tax being dedicated for reserves. This is the type of fiscal responsibility we need to get off the State Auditors list of cities on the brink of bankruptcy. We applaud Mayor Fadelli for making the motion. We would like to see this brought back again and brought to a vote. Last time the City Manager wore them down into a simple agreement.

3. Of course there are also issues with the library hours being cut. While it appears that they legally met the Brown Act requirements they violated the spirit of the law. Which is that deals are not made behind the scenes and that there is public notice to the community of issues that are being voted on. While one cannot prove behind-the-scenes maneuvers it looked like some council members came to the meeting ready to follow the City Managers’ lead on this issue and other council members seemed surprised the vote came up. If council members were surprised how would the community know to attend the meeting?

4. Finally there was a 5-year projection included in the last meetings packet. You can see this in the screenshot below. The green line is the proposed budget for 21/22 and you can see an 11% reserve. This is happening because of the Federal bailout money. Each column afterward is a year further so the reserve is 8.8% in 22/23 and 6.3% in 23/24 3.5% in 24/25 and finally 2.8% in 25/26. So without any structural cuts, we only meet our reserve goal next year. While Councilperson Motoyama brought up the 5-year projection last meeting it was not discussed. As I have said before the City continues to kick the can. This 5-year projection is not allowing for the PERS retirement rate changing which could make these numbers way way worse. We need a budget that addresses this. Another reason this budget should not be voted for.

Pictures Speak Louder than Words

One of our local residents put together some graphs on El Cerrito finances for the years 2016-2020. I think this is a great way for us to see some of these issues visually. I know it was super helpful for me. At the bottom are links to the data sources used to create the graphs. For me what stood out the most is the dramatic increase in expenditures that corresponds with the dramatic lowering of our ending General Fund Balance.

Sources of Data

Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR) http://el-cerrito.org/1288/Financial-Transparency-Site
Employee Compensation https://transparentcalifornia.com/
San Francisco Area CPI: https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/CUURS49BSA0
Taxable Transactions https://www.cdtfa.ca.gov/dataportal/dataset.htm?url=TaxSalesCRCityCounty

The City Manager continues to run the show

This meeting was extraordinarily long and very challenging to watch.

The low points (there were no high points I saw).

The library hours were cut by a 3-2 vote. Councilperson Motoyama brought up the motion after the City Manager hinted strongly for the second meeting in a row that she wanted them cut. Councilpersons Abelson, Motoyama, and Quinto voted for it. Mayor Fadelli and Councilperson Rudnick against it. Councilperson Rudnick pleaded several times not to do it and also posted a subsequent video on Facebook stating how upset she was. The budget has not been voted on yet so there could be a second vote next time if there is enough public outcry about this.

The reason the library hours are such a burning point are listed below

  1. It provides many services for those in our community that are marginalized. Like lunches for kids in the summers. Like internet access since a quarter of our county’s residents don’t have that access (specific figures to El Cerrito are not known). For a city that proclaims it cares about equity, this is not a vote that was taken with equity in mind.
  2. The total cost of this cut, which was the ONLY cut identified, was $58,000. That is it. There is between $350,000-$500,000 budgeted for next year for a large legal settlement. That many of us suspect (but is not confirmed) to be the settlement of the Perez vs El Cerrito sexual harassment lawsuit. All officers named in that lawsuit appear to still be employees of the city. Which if it is true leaves the City liable for future lawsuits. But yes let’s cut the library hours. (1)
  3. While technically legally compliant with the Brown Act this was a surprise attack on the library hours and people were not able to comment. Even with the meeting starting at 5 pm the public comment was around 10 pm and only three of us spoke. The last time this was on the agenda over 100 people wrote in with comments last night no one had the opportunity to speak because no notice was given that this was an issue on the table.
  4. While cuts need to be made and everything should be on the table (and I am personally opposed to library cuts to be fully transparent) this was the only cut made. No one looked at the $150K for 3 new police cars for example. The public had no option to speak as to their priorities. Maybe people would say cut library, not police cars but we will never know.

There was another part of the meeting that was the perfect example of the dysfunction of our city and how the City Manager runs the City, not the City Council. Mayor Fadelli pushed the City Manager as hard as I have ever seen her pushed by Council on designating part of the transfer tax to be put into reserve. Which would mean some actual cuts to the budget. The City Manager was obviously upset and talked about how she would have to redo the entire budget book etc. Now if she had listened to the numerous other time’s cuts had been brought up she would not have to redo it. There was a lengthy back and forth and Councilperson Motoyama tried bringing up a few alternatives. But the City Manager stood firm. So after all the discussion it ended with a simple request from the Council that the budget is built with a 1 million surplus each year as recommended by the Financial Advisory Board. Yet again nothing enforceable. Just the way the City Manager likes it. And the entire City Council backed down. Again. Is this how you want City Council to represent you as a resident and voter? In 2022 there are two seats up for election. They are currently held by Councilpersons Abelson and Quinto. Both voted for the library cuts. Councilperson Quinto declared he was running again last night. Rumor is Councilperson Abelson will not. I would recommend watching at around the 930pm hour which would be about 4.5 hours into the video available here. You need to see the dysfunction in action.

In addition, Councilperson Motoyama brought up the 5-year forecast which is dismal but never addressed in the meeting. Without the federal bailout money (ARPA) we would have no reserve next year. But even with it we only hit the 10% minimum the first year and are below it and in the danger zone for the following 4 years.

So what is there to do? I am hearing talk of interest in recalling Councilpersons Quinto and/or Abelson. Some residents are also talking about a fiscal budget ordinance (like the petition we have) here going on the ballot. If City Council won’t do the work the residents must. Others want to wait until the 2022 election and work for a clean slate. These are some options. Feel free to add more in the comments. What is clear is that just talking to the three council members willing to talk is not enough. More action and engagement is necessary. So I ask every reader to try and take one action to do more. Write in for public comment at the next meeting about the library cuts. Public pressure has swayed that decision before. Inform your neighbors about the financial crisis in our City. Follow this blog or the threads on Next Door to see what is happening and watch at least one meeting so you can see it all in action. Because you really have to see it to believe it!

(1) Footnotes

Here is where the legal settlement is shown as 350K and as 500k.

Above is pages 71 of 281

Above is page 80 of 281

El Cerrito Progressives also posted on this issue. Their blog post is found here.

Here are all the emails if you want to write to the City Council and/or the City Manager

Karen Pinkos-City Manager kpinkos@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Paul Fadelli Mayor pfadelli@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Vice-Mayor Gabe Quinto gquinto@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Councilperson Rudnick trudnick@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Councilperson Motoyama lmotoyama@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Councilperson Janet Abelson jabelson@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Will Council Continue to kick the can down the road?

The next City Council Meeting will be at 5pm on June 1, 2021. The packet is here. The agenda includes the Budget for 21/22 and the TRAN!. The Tran paperwork starts at page 61 and the Budget paperwork starts on page 174.

Join Via Zoom 1. https://zoom.us/j/91849369987?pwd=b3FJTGk2WTRaNThTVGVORmxsOVNuQT09

Meeting ID: 918 4936 9987 Password: 922486 or Dial in: 1-408-638-0968

This is a very important meeting and we encourage everyone to attend and make public comment. It is best if you can make it in person but if you cannot you can send it your comment to the city clerk at cityclerk@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us. You should write in the subject line the item number on the agenda 7A for the TRAN and 7B for the financial update and 7C for the 21/22 budget. You can also write in not on the agenda if your comment is for something else.

Please note this meeting starts at 5pm!

A few talking points

A few potential talking points

When is City Council going to demand real data? There are no structural cuts included in this budget. At the last town hall meeting the Mayor requested a list of cuts.

Is the Council okay with waiting until September to even get a list of cuts? That is what was stated in the last FAB meeting.

Is El Cerrito going to make structural cuts or just ride the bailout money for a bit? Is there going to be a real effort to get community response if there are cuts?

Are Council Members confident with the information provided for the TRAN financing?

The 5 year budget shows an immediate decline. Are council members going to continue to kick the can down the road?

How long will the City Council let the City Manager and Finance Director mismanage El Cerrito?

At the May 25, 2021 Financial Advisory Board Meeting the ineptitude of the Finance Director reached new lows. 

  1. Last month FAB recommended that the budget not consider the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds and establish a one million dollar surplus without it.  The Finance Director presented a five year budget using the 2.4 million to create the surplus.
    The Finance Director specifically indicated the ARPA funds would not be included in the calculation for this year’s surplus, however, you can see above the budget with the $2.4 million bailout money.  You can see the full 5 year forecast here. In the cash flow document he does not show the bailout money but he also does not show the TRAN payment. The way he presents the data is deceptive and confusing.
     
  2. At the May 8th Budget meeting, Mayor Fadelli asked that the staff come back with $1 million in cuts. Per the Finance Director, at this meeting, in the next SIX months Management Partners is going to come up with a list of cuts. Management Partners has been under contract with the city since June 2020. Why will it take them that long to develop a list? Their current contract ends before September so why are they producing deliverables afterwards? The scope of their agreement not only included the deliverables, but included the duration. Either way, the Finance Director and City Manager are responsible for the performance of the Contractor.
  1. Another year has gone by and the Finance Director and City Manager have not delivered on promised and required reductions in expenditures.  They are now discussing making the necessary $1 million of cuts a year a year from now in FY 22/23. If they do not make that cut the reserve will immediately drop to 8.8%.
  1. The City is also ignoring the requirement for an additional emergency disaster reserve fund (EDRP) of $6 million which was supposed to be funded at 1 million a year for 6 years. This is something FAB pushed hard for a few years ago. And like many financial policies it has been ignored. 
  1. One of the members asked about how cuts happen. The chair said the Council would direct the City Manager to work with the Departments and identify cuts.  Council is supposed to take the list and make a decision. But we are now in a situation where the Mayor requested this happen and it is not happening. So is that not an issue with the City Manager’s job performance? What happens at your job when the boss requests something and does not receive it?
  1. Once again the Finance Director was not able to give a coherent explanation of the TRAN costs. If we borrow 8.5 million and pay back 8.75 it seems pretty clear our costs are $250k. 

Both the Finance Director and the City Manager are blatantly ignoring direction from the City Council. We can argue that the City Council needs to give super specific instructions with specific direction and deadlines. 

What we are seeing is that the City Manager won’t make cuts, the Council won’t make the cuts, and Management Partners will come back in 6 months with the same cuts they provided last year and suggest them again. And in the meantime more time passes with no cuts. And the Finance Director is saying “we run a tight ship”.  “We are turning the corner.”

We must ask the City Council what their standard is for financial stewardship for El Cerrito and how long they are willing to wait for said monetary/fiscal stewardship?

How long will The Council allow the City Manager and Finance Director mismanage the city? I get they have been trying to be supportive but the insubordination and incompetence cannot be ignored anymore. It was 2018 when the independent auditor first brought up this financial crisis and barely anything has been done as El Cerrito is climbing up the list of cities on the verge of bankruptcy.

The buck needs to stop somewhere and it stops at the City Council.

The next meeting is Tuesday June 1, 2021. Please call or write in with public comment and let The City Council know what you think of the job performance of the City Manager and Finance Director. The link to the meeting will be found here.

More of the same from Council and Staff

It is probably not true but some of us feel like these meetings are set up in a manner to discourage public engagement and comment. I had hoped this meeting, with just the budget on the agenda, would allow time for ample public comment. Alas. It was instead a total reminder of the inefficient and bloated manner in which El Cerrito is managed. Each Department Head presented. Except they did not know what to present so they presented it all. And conversations went to places not related to the budget. Like how Community Development has been a mess with permits. A topic that deserves its own time on the agenda but is not part of the budget. And they did not accept public comment until the very end of all of the presentations which meant at around 11:30 pm. So many of us had long signed off to go to bed.

So a few positives before I go on

  1. Mayor Fadelli did bring up the need for cuts in each department. Several times. This should have been given to the Department Heads as direction to be part of their presentation.
  2. Councilpersons Rudnick and Motoyama continue to ask good questions. Councilperson Rudnick particularly pushed the Finance Director on some issues. Good for her.
  3. The City Manager brought up that the City Council could cut the library budget but no Councilperson took up that cause. The library hours are within the budget!

That’s it that’s the good. The bad

  1. I know I mention this often but the City Manager is not telling us what this mystery 2 million in cuts will be. It will be in the budget book coming out May 24th which allows only two meetings of discussion on the cuts. Unless the Council adds meetings.
  2. The Finance Director continues to give a different answer every time he is asked about the TRAN costs. This time he said we could expect a 3% rate. We paid 0.84% last time and cities with good credit are averaging .4%. This is a lot of additional money we are paying due to poor fiscal management.
  3. It is my understanding that the Financial Advisory Board passed on a recommendation that the budget end with a 1 million surplus not including federal bail-out money. This was never relayed in the meeting by the Finance Director. The Chair of FAB did bring this up at the very end in public comment.
  4. Grants continue to be brought up as an option but no plan is in place for a dedicated grant writer. Even a contract person. I believe there will lots of fire safety grants in CA this coming year. We need someone to go and get the city some of that money.

So what did we learn? Nothing. There seems to be no expectation that Departments will cut their budgets. There seems to be no progress on union negotiations with fire and police. I do understand that that is private but come on Police and Fire unions you can at least give up your COLAS to do your part. But they don’t have to since they have a contract. It does appear that no concessions are being offered. We have no understanding of the budget that will be proposed. We continue to see absolutely no sense of urgency as to the issue. We see no creative solutions to reduce the bloat. There are obvious places to cut like police dispatch. That should have been being worked on before now.

We need real leadership. The City Manager is responsible for the Department Heads and she should have directed them as to how to present concisely and with some thoughts on potential cuts. If the City Manager is not capable of that leadership then her boss, the City Council, needs to direct her or support her in doing things differently. Council also needs to step up as far as the work product that is being produced. The financial reports are not good. Period and again if the Finance Director cannot produce meaningful data he needs to be directed, supported, or asked to move on. That is the City Managers’ responsibility. He reports to her. The council continues to play nice and thank the staff for all their hard work. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how hard they work if the product is faulty. Very specific directives need to be given. Mayor Fadelli this is your chance to be a leader. Please give specific direction to the City Manager. I know much of the work happens behind the scenes but the public needs to know that we have competent people addressing this problem. What we are seeing in Council meetings is not showing us that.

Proposed Budget is a Mess

The El Cerrito Proposed Budget Department Preview is out and includes a proposed budget for 2021-2022 and it is a mess. (starts on page 95).

Our new budget year starts on July 1st and on May 18, 2021, they are presenting this packet that does not have sufficient information for the City Council to make a decision. Now I know the city is going to say that they are going to do more but the last page of the packet listed the next steps as these:

  1. The week of May 24th the budget will be released to Council and FAB. A little over a month before it needs approval.
  2. May 25th Special FAB meeting
  3. June 1 Council meeting and hearing
  4. June 15th Council meeting and hearing.

So my issues with this presentation are as follows.

  1. On page 97 they have the proposed budget. If this is the best the City Manager and Finance Director can do then we have a very large problem. I have looked at many other city’s budget processes and none of them look like this. Check out Albany’s two year budget. Everything is broken down by the Department (another request by the State Auditor) and there are no imaginary forecasts-just actuals and proposed. It is also easily accessible on their website and they have quarterly updates also posted.

    Meanwhile, in El Cerrito, they just subtract 2 million from the forecast for next year. We are not told if those are those structural cuts we have been promised or if they are going to use the bailout money to fill the gaps for two years and then we end up in the same mess again.
  2. Council has directed staff to start from a baseline of last year. They are not. Look at Personnel. For example: 2020-21 is $15,266,000 but he starts a forecast at 18,622,000 and then sets the budget at 17,025,000…..claims to save 1,637,00. Now based on the Finance Directors’ prior comments he might say this is adding COLAS etc. Which would be fine if it was spelled out. And then the reduction was spelled out. But it is also not savings. A savings would be an amount that is less than the prior year. 

This is a deception the City has been using for years. They forecast things to be high and then budget less and then say they are saving money. Instead of looking at mid-year 15,266,000 and saying we are budgeting 17,025,000 and that is an increase of $1,759,000. And how about explaining that increase. That is salary and benefits so what is the increase? Are COLAS back? Are benefit costs increasing? It is almost 2 million. We need to know what it means.

3. They continue to be deceptive in regards to police staffing. On page 98 they show a staffing chart that appears to show 10 positions cut from the police. Which is either going to scare residents or make them very happy. But it is not true. In January 2019 there were 54 filled positions with 40 sworn officers and the following January 2020 there were 51 filled positions and 37 sworn officers. No officer has been laid off. I verified this with Chief Keith. He also told me via email that for the next year they have 48 positions authorized with 37 sworn officers. Which is exactly the same as last year. Authorized positions mean they were in the budget not that they were on the streets. So cutting positions that were not filled does not remove officers from the beat.

4. The TRAN costs are going way up. For those of you new to this the TRAN is the payday loan the city gets every year to stay afloat. This year the financing costs are projected at 310,000. And next year he has a forecast of 550K and then budgets at 508. This is ridiculous. First off the Finance Director has been giving garbled explanations at FAB of how the TRAN does not even cost us money even though the State Auditor specifically called that out. Clearly next year the TRAN will cost more. It looks like at least 200k more. That is 4 times the library hours cost. And it costs more because we have mismanaged our city finances into a BBB- bond rating. See the chart the State Auditor created below.

5. Professional services are increased by half a million. Why? What for?

6. Dispatch services through Richmond are almost a million dollars a year. Have we looked at cheaper options? I know a few years back we were going to go into the County dispatch system which would have saved a lot of money but the Sheriff revoked the offer when we became a Sanctuary City. Are there no other options for dispatch? A quick look at our neighbor Albany and their police budget is less than 8 million while ours is over 10 million. They have 26 sworn staff and 11 support staff. So why are their policing needs so much less than ours? That is 11 fewer sworn officers. And crime is not higher in Albany with that many fewer officers.

Points to bring up at the May 18th meeting.

When is the City Council going to demand real data?

Can the city staff provide data that is true and not deceptive?

Is El Cerrito going to make structural cuts or just ride the bailout money for a bit? Is there going to be a real effort to get a community response if there are cuts?

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.

The questions that remain from the Town Hall meeting

The Town Hall supplemental materials were posted. Starting on page 37 are the chat questions that were asked during the meeting. Some were marked live answered and many were just acknowledged with no answer given. Those I am copying here. Some are comments that weren’t acknowledged and I am posting those also. I have bolded some of the questions I see as particularly important to be answered. Next Tuesday April 20th at 7pm is the next Council meeting and item 7A is the city’s response to the State Auditors report.

Questions

  1. To Gabe Quinto and then to Mayor Fadelli For the period 2015-19, what in your opinion prevented City Council from foreseeing, managing, and mitigating the current financial crisis?

2. Travel and conference attendance wasn’t frozen until THIS year? Why?

3. You have discretion over 23 management positions. I note that some positions enjoyed large increases over the last 3 to 4 years. Why? Note this was indicated as live answered. I remember the City Manager saying that she did not give a certain type of raise but I don’t recall this being fully answered

4. How can I (educated citizens) recommend or suggest ways we can increase City revenues through new projects that Improve and support the community?

5. Have we considered selling the pool? In a few years it will be an even larger liability due to needed repairs

6. Can you be clear as to exactly what the dollar amount is that the City needs to reduce in 2020-21 and 2021-22? Is this taking into account the Federal $4..8 million bailout? Would this result in an increase in the General Reserves?

7. I also have a question that I have not heard explained: what are the consequences to El Cerrito if we do not meet the Auditor’s recommendations?

8. Why did expenditures go up $10 million from 2014-2019?

9. Will there be additional meetings that ARE in Spanish (and Mandarin)? This is a huge inequity by design.

10. To know how to change our city’s financial culture we need to know where we went wrong. As the city manager presented, our “goal b” since 2013 is longterm financial stability. What is the city council and city manager’s SPECIFIC examples of what has gone wrong in the past and how they will change for the future? How, SPECIFICALLY, will you provide accountability and consequences for now and the future?

11. When you say the city is able to pay its expenses—is that with actual money at hand, or are you using money you have borrowed?

12. What human and financial resources need be allocated in order to come up with a viable corrective action strategy (including whether more skilled and objective professionals need be consulted or added to our management team)? We need – and deserve! – stronger analysis by the council based on reviews of accurate and sufficient data. To the extent that the Council concludes we have need new perspectives and impartial advice it needs to move now! Is City Attorney involved?

Comments:

1. Expenditures again doesn’t include a breakdown for how much we are required to spend on health care or retirement. This should be clear so people know what is and is not fixed.

2. Many of the “savings” were just costs that were deferred to next year. If the city had retained a two-year budget, suddenly many of the “savings” would disappear

3. Characterizing not getting raises as a sacrifice during this last year when many residents have taken large pay cuts or losing their jobs is insensitive. I appreciate it but it is fairer to say they are doing their part to keep the city afloat, not a sacrifice.

4. Can we discuss here that the Rec Dept, that you want to cut costs in, is a REVENUE GENERATING dept? The Police Dept costs large outweigh whatever “revenue” it brings.

5. Are you all going to answer the many great questions in this chat or are we going to have to continue to listen to speeches. The Mayor said this was to be a listening session. I thought he meant listening to us not us listening to the CM and the chiefs.

6. Manager Pinkos, this was a yes or no question. This answer is too much fluff. This type of response loses people’s attention and seems you’re going around just plainly stating why we are not seeing ACTUAL budget numbers.

7. The current system isn’t working. (26 people) of City Management take up the majority of the budget. We need to change how we offer services within the city and use more volunteers to provide services . Volunteers can offer time at the senior center, community center, community pool, recycle center, library, city hall, police department, fire department, and with basic services such as cleaning parks and streets. This will help to balance the city budget and change the culture. Local government shouldn’t be run like a business– it is a community serving the community

8. For future presentations about the city budget by the Financial Manager: the presentations need to be much more accessible to the public. Do not use acronymns like “TRAN” over & over without explaining them (it turns out they are loans. Do not post a detailed breakdown on the Zoom screen that many of us cannot view on our screens (unless it making it clear in advance where to see these charts). Tell us the facts and show them clearly … I heard someone else ask for PowerPoints & that would help.

9. I would like to reiterate my support for all of the recommendations in the
State Auditor’s report and urge you to get the city’s financial house in order. Structural changes are needed in how we prepare and carry out our budget, especially with the
monitoring of spending. I do not want slick answers. I need to see the action steps
and the action taken. If my personal budget was in this much of a mess, I would have long since had to cut my expenses!

10. Pensions: unfunded liability, according to Mayor Pro Tem Quinto, is over $70 million. This is NOT for existing employees.

11. Were the City Manager and councilmembers to admit her own culpability in this situation, it would go a long way to building trust with the taxpayers and residents of this city.

12. Thanks to attending the last City Council meeting, I found out where to find and read the State Auditor’s report (on the City Manager’s website, but not well advertised). I understand the Auditor’s report is supposed to be on a “Financial Transparency” page — I hope it is there now. ALSO – how does the city reach out these days to get citizens involved in attending city council meetings. Unless you are watching the website regularly, you might not even know the CRISIS we are in!

13. To City Manager. Why haven’t you eliminated the Finance Director position and taken full responsibility of the City’s Financials. This would be a savings of 200k +. We are small town… City Manager needs to take on more responsibilities of the Financials of over spending.

14. Mayor and City Council, I would like to reiterate my support for all of the
recommendations in the State Auditor’s report and urge you to get the city’s financial house in order. Structural changes are needed in how we prepare and carry out our budget, especially with the monitoring of spending.