El Cerrito Staff continue to show lack of transparency with the budget

Tomorrow September 1st at 430pm El Cerrito City Council is having a special budget meeting. They have not yet completed their 20/21 budget which started in July. For information on the meeting click here. The meeting is once again scheduled at a time that is not accessible for many residents. While I understand that some of this scheduling is due to council members’ day jobs these budget meetings must be held when people can attend them. To not do so adds to the feelings that the City Staff and Council do not want an active citizenry.

The agenda and the packet only were issued for the meeting this afternoon (August 31st). Normally these packets are issued the Thursday before the meeting. Once again a ” budget study session” is on the agenda for the meeting and once again any slides that the consultant or staff have prepared ARE NOT in the packet. So El Cerrito residents do not have adequate time to prepare comments. They have to watch the meeting and comment during the meeting.

We have long been requesting that residents see the current financial status at each meeting or at least monthly. We have also been requesting a more transparent budget process. A meeting at an inaccessible time with a packet that has no actual information in it is NOT TRANSPARENT.

I urge those that care about this city and its financial situation to send in a public comment tomorrow (better yet if you can attend and comment during the meeting). Comments can be sent to cityclerk@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us and you should state public comment agenda item 3A if you want to discuss the budget.

I would also encourage you to send comments to the City Manager and the entire City Council. If they don’t hear from us they assume we are not longer paying attention.

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

Greg Lyman-Mayor glyman@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

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

Councilperson Pardue-Okimoto rpardueokimoto@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

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

Councilperson Gabe Quinto gquinto@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Paul Fadelli Response to Budget Questions

As I wrote in my last post ECCFRG has asked all of the candidates a series of questions in regards to the budget crisis. Paul Fadelli sent in his response today so he is the first post to go up. We did allow each candidate a brief bio space also. The words below are all the candidate’s except for when I repeat the question. Mr. Fadelli has been on the council for 4 years and is currently Mayor Pro-Tem which means if he is re-elected he will be the Mayor. We thank Mayor Pro-Tem Fadelli for taking the time to answer our questions.

Brief Bio

I grew up in West County, going to school in El Cerrito and Richmond, and graduating from Kennedy High. I graduated college from UC Davis and got a Masters of Journalism degree from UCLA.

For more than two decades I worked for progressive Democratic legislators in the state and national capitols on a variety of policy issues. For ten years in Sacramento I was the staff director on the State Senate Committee on Energy & Public Utilities. Moving back to the Bay Area in the nineties, I was the VP at Kearns & West, a collaborative planning firm in San Francisco. Before becoming a City Councilmember in 2016, I worked for 11 years as the Manager of State & Federal Legislation at the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART).

I am married and have two daughters — one that just graduated from high school, and the other who will be entering UC graduate school in the Fall.

1. What is your analysis of how the city became insolvent and what changes will you make to ensure it does not happen again?

El Cerrito is a small community that has been proud of being a “full service” city for many years. But the City didn’t necessarily respond adequately after the recession of 2008 with service, salary or staffing cuts to stay economically viable over the long term. With few new revenue sources, important reserves were often used and eventually depleted in order to keep services and staff at status quo levels. In addition, in later years, while maintaining positive economic outlooks, the council approved (sometimes unwittingly) expenditures to pay with reserves for:
• costs associated with the abolishment of Redevelopment Agencies in the State;
• costs associated with El Cerrito becoming a Sanctuary City when the county Sheriff, in retaliation, forced the City to seek more costly dispatch service; and
• costs to establish a new temporary Senior Center when the WCCUSD would not renew the lease at the existing site at discounted rate.
Obviously more scrutiny by Council over the past decade could have brought the question of reserves and budget sustainability forward. Over many years, the past city staff leadership had developed a somewhat insular budgetary process that resulted in little scrutiny or review, until new auditors blew the whistle. I have mentioned publicly that it is not only important to have transparency on budget issues for the public, but also better transparency between staff and Council as well. There was a culture of not wanting to give councilmembers bad news.

This Council and a new City Manager have been outspoken in acknowledging the need to structurally change the budget process to grow critical reserves over time. With the additional problems associated with Covid-19, this has resulted in changing from a two-year budget process to a one-year effort where amendments can occur to respond to changing economic circumstances.

2. How will you independently verify staff budget projections and analysis?

Working my whole life for elected officials I have often dealt with budgets – mostly dealing with specific policy programs and whether or not funding amounts were appropriate or adequate with respect to my member or agency’s needs. However, with issues involving El Cerrito’s solvency I have learned electeds, need to be even more detailed in reviewing and approving city budgets. There is much to do as a councilmember. I am not an accountant and will have to still rely on professionals, staff and the public scrutiny for questions and answers. As one of the two newest Councilmembers, I believe we both felt we asked many of the right questions during council meetings (especially about Measure V revenue and the impact on reserves), but often didn’t get a detailed helpful response back at the time.

3. Describe what you understand to be the working relationship between the City Manager and the City Council. Are there any changes you would like to see in the current culture, and if so, how would you go about it?

While City Councilmembers play important roles in their cities (setting policy, voting for budgets and ordinances and ceremonial obligations), it is important to remember that most of the authority by ordinance for production of reports, draft legislation and implementation of policies belongs to the city manager. It is a significant job with many management obligations. In addition, the Brown Act, dramatically limits any discussion among Councilmembers about policy matters and often keeps councilmembers out of the loop as to what’s occurring on certain events and issues. Often Councilmembers will only hear of a problem or another councilmember’s views on a key issue at the actual meeting. It is courtesy, too, for council to notify the City Manager know ahead of time of any issues that might be brought up. So that is to their advantage.
But the separate relationship between a Councilmember and the City Manager is important. Not just in El Cerrito, but in most cities, the City Manager is the conduit through which a Councilmember must go to meet with and discuss issues with staff. A good relationship can lead to more freedom in that direction, or less if not so good. When a Councilmember rotates to being Mayor, there is more to discuss and finalize as usually the mayor gets to prioritize what will be on agendas for Council to consider. But even agendas must be based on status of staff concerns, workloads and progress. Historically too, the city manager is responsible for public safety (fire and police) and hiring and firing all staff. There is not much changing this relationship as it is in ordinance. If a council/city manager sours, councilmembers can publicly criticize staff and management and eventually bring those concerns back to any rehiring process. But this would be a failure of the system.

4. How will you evaluate the city manager’s performance and hold them accountable?

This Council set 3-4 goals for the new City Manager. We will review progress on achieving those goals when the option to renew her contract comes before us in the future.

5. What role do you you think short-term borrowing has in the budget? If there is no role then what is your plan to eliminate it? If there is a role then what do you see as the impact on the city’s bond rating, borrowing costs and our ability to finance other capital projects?

It would be great not to have to have seek and utilize short-term borrowing. It turns out that to pay the bills, El Cerrito has been using this method for some time. The negative budgetary aspect of this tool only became apparent to me and others when our new auditor raised concerns about it. It was necessary to seek another short term loan this year, and probably for one or two more years, until our budget straightens out with recent actions. It is a goal of Council not to have to seek short-term loans in the future. Bond ratings will improve for El Cerrito with that reality.

6. What are the details of your plan for El Cerrito getting out of the financial situation we are in?

Council has set the course for El Cerrito’s finances with a strategy that will eventually begin accruing reserves by 2023 or 2024 depending upon circumstances with the recession and Covid -19. The approach focuses on cuts and a 3-year recovery, so that important services residents like will not be decimated. Council approved over $600k in cuts for FY 19-20 and, for FY20-21, over $4 million has been cut from 10% across-the-board cuts in all departments, negotiated cuts with represented and unrepresented labor groups, no COLAs, a hiring freeze, keeping vacancies open, increasing management contributions to PERS, freeze car allowance payments. The next few years will be tough and lean. Council must still cut $1.5 million or more from programs before October. To me everything is still on the table as we determine what the future economic forecast looks like. I have publicly said I want to permanently get rid of the monthly car allowances. Additional services and management salaries are likewise still on the table. I have raised the concern that we can’t just cut expenditures, but have to also think about building/seeking new revenues:

  1. assisting our permit office to expedite building projects and restart housing development along San Pablo Avenue;
  2. encourage retail and workspace development at BART Plaza TOD development;
  3. determine potential revenue to have fire department charge for EMS calls to El Cerrito and Kensington residents;
  4. conduct regional lobbying to state and federal officials to secure needed local funds;
  5. consider increasing recreational fees for certain programs without reducing accessibility;
  6. consider the possibility of another cannabis dispensary (first one is still not open).

    7. What do you see as the issue behind the over 1 million dollar amount of overtime for the Fire Department? How would you resolve this issue and keep El Cerrito fire safe.

    Out of control fire overtime is an issue we have to resolve. I was hoping the state auditor would have done her review and presented facts and procedure on how to deal going forward. But the audit will not start for some time and, in the meantime I and other councilmembers, have asked for a full report and recommendation from our fire chief and city manager. Overtime when used correctly and prudently can save money when the full costs of hiring and employing personnel is considered. I think in El Cerrito overtime became a systemic way of doing business because certain employees benefitted. With circumstances in El Cerrito changing (new retirees, new PEPRA rules for PERS etc.) it may be advantageous to consider filling the vacant fire slots, which could assist fire efforts and lower overtime costs. But we will have to see what is reported back and what recommendations are made

8. What changes would you make with the police budget?

I am hoping the police budget will be an ongoing issue for some time as we move toward a broader discussion and evolution of changes in how we provide and assure safety for El Cerritans. As with every El Cerrito department, the police budget has been reduced by 10 %. In addition to the elimination of SROs, Council has reviewed other police operations which could result in the reduction of staff during the budget process. Other changes with respect to how we handle 911 calls and mental health calls may not actually help to reduce the budget…but I want to learn from other cities and be open to positive changes that encourage less confrontational incidents wherever we can.

What are our City Council Candidates thoughts on the budget crisis?

For the first time in a long time, we have an election with mostly outsiders running. There is one incumbent running, Paul Fadelli, who is endorsed by the El Cerrito Democratic Club, but there are 7 additional candidates. In no particular order they are:

Isis

 Tessa Rudnick

 Matt Burnham

 Jennifer Greel

 Lisa Motoyama

 Arthur Yee

 William Ktsanes

To see their nomination papers you can click here

El Cerrito Committee for responsible government sent each candidate a list of 8 questions. We want the community to be able to assess the candidate’s understanding of the fiscal crisis and what each candidate sees as potential solutions for the issues.

The questions are as follows:

  1. What is your analysis of how the city became insolvent and what changes will you make to ensure it does not happen again?
  2. How will you independently verify staff budget projections and analysis?
  3. Describe what you understand to be the working relationship between the City Manager and the City Council. Are there any changes you would like to see in the current culture, and if so, how would you go about it?
  4. How will you evaluate the city manager’s performance and hold them accountable?
  5. What role do you think short-term borrowing has in the budget?-Follow up: If there is no role: what is your plan to eliminate it. If there is a role then: what is the impact on the city’s Rating, borrowing costs, and our ability to finance other capital projects.
  6. What are the details of your plan for El Cerrito getting out of the financial situation we are in?
  7. What do you see as the issue behind the over 1 million overtime for the Fire Department each year? How would you resolve this issue and keep El Cerrito fire safe?
  8. What changes would you make with the police budget?

We have asked the candidates to respond by Monday, August 31st. Whoever does respond we will post their answers here in a blog post. We may then do some analysis in other posts but each candidate will get a post that is their words to our questions.

El Cerrito is a city in crisis. We all know the November election is one of the most important elections this country has ever had. But we cannot forget our local issues we must pay attention to both. We encourage voters to educate themselves. Sign up for updates to this blog to get each blog post for the candidates. Join our IO group for updates.

El Cerrito Progressives along with El Cerrito Fire Safe are sponsoring a candidate forum on September 12th from 3-5 pm. They will be posting the video so it can be watched later and ECP will do a scorecard for candidates.

So there are many places you can get information about these candidates please take the time to do so!

Is El Cerrito Making Data Driven Financial Decisions?

This coming Tuesday, August 11th El Cerrito is having another meeting to discuss the budget. The consultants are recommending at least an additional 1.5 million dollars in cuts occur. Their recommendations are as follows:

The problem with both the 1.5 million dollar number and the recommendations that are made is that there is no specificity to them. We don’t know where the 1.5 million dollar number came from. What were the assumptions that created that number? How long are they predicting the shelter in place order will last? Are they looking at the latest economic numbers which were horrific? Given that we just took out an 8.5 million dollar loan to stay afloat all decisions moving forward be both data-driven and transparent. Having a packet of vague information does not allow residents to make adequate public comments for the meeting.

Some of us have been trying hard to analyze the budget and how decisions are made. We have been focusing on the Fire and Police Departments since those are half the city’s budget. I made several information requests to see how the city decided to not hire additional fire personal but rather pay overtime. I also requested information on how the amount of money to charge Kensington for their fire protection contract was determined.

For the Kensington contract, I was told there were no records responsive to my request. Which means there is no financial analysis of how El Cerrito determines the cost of the Kensington contract. The city could be benefiting greatly or being hurt financially-we simply do not know without financial analysis.

Regarding the OT I was given the chart below. It tells me how much a fire department employee costs the city. It does not have any analysis of OT hours and what they cost. I independently gathered data on fire department OT and put it together. Something that I believe the city staff should have been doing to decide to hire more staff or not. Again, the city may have made the correct decision but without data, we do not know.

Another person put in a request for information on the police department which is still pending. The request was for information on all police incidents over the past two years breaking them down into the type of incident and categories along with resolutions. We thought this would be an easy request that this data would be tracked. This is not the case. We were told there were numerous records to go through in order to obtain the information. Further upsetting was that the response was from an outside lawyer. Which means this request is costing the city money to obtain. Not the intention of our group.

I hope people will again make public comments at the meeting. The information on how to attend and make comment is at the bottom of this post. Please note this is a 4:30pm meeting.

I am suggesting
1. A monthly financial report given to the city council and published online. This should be an easily readable document summing up income and expenses and how they are tracing for the fiscal year. This way if the estimate of the 1.5 million is to late there can be quick action taken. It also increases transparency.


2. When there are recommendations put into slides they be very specific. What are these PD and FD staffing changes? What is this reduction in city administration? Are they job losses are something else.


3. Whenever there are staff predictions on how the finances are going we need written assumptions that go along with them. For example 1.5 million in cuts is based on a reduced sales tax income of 2% until June 2021. Etc. This allows us to see if the predictions are going far enough forward in time. I understand that things are fluctuating faster than usual and that assumptions may change over time and even quickly but the residents deserve to know what is behind each assumption.

To watch the meeting

JOIN VIA WEBEX:
  1. https://elcerrito.webex.com/elcerrito/onstage/g.php?MTID=e2bff40274a0e7adaa22507ff7a016ddf

Event Number:146 528 6824
Event Password: Jfq2ZS

or

Dial In: 1­-408­-418­-9388
Access Code:
146 528 6824

To make public comment for the meeting

If you are watching live using WebEx you can use the “Raise Hand” feature to request to speak. Each period of public comment will be announced.

To send in comment do the following-If the comment gets there 3 hours prior to the meeting it is submitted to the council in writing ahead of the meeting. If it is later than that the council will get the written comment in the supplemental packet. The city clerk is no longer reading the comments into the record, later. The agenda item for this financial item is 3A.

Via email to cityclerk@ci.elcerrito.ca.us. Email must contain in the subject line public comments – not on the agenda or public comments – agenda item #. The agenda item for this financial item is 3A.

Take action-budget meeting August 1st

The City of El Cerrito will be hosting a virtual town hall on the budget on Saturday, August 1st From 10-12. For information on joining the Town Hall click here.   We urge you to participate, and this is why:

  1.  The city is facing a 5.5 million dollar budget deficit.
  2. The city has been very slow to take action and COVID  is exacerbating what was already a crisis situation. The longer the city takes to act the worse situation we will be in. 
  3. The city is paying consultants thousands of dollars for them to suggest cuts in services, including library, recreation and senior services. 
  4. The city has not addressed the extreme amounts of overtime paid to the fire department (over 1.5 million last year). This is an issue that was called out by the state auditor. While we all agree we want El Cerrito to stay fire safe it seems it might be prudent to look at ways to control expenses. 
  5. Public safety is 50% of the budget. Members of the public need to decide what the priorities of the city should be and let their elected representatives know what they are. Cuts need to be made. Do you want to prioritize police or the recreation center? Let the council know. 
  6. The City has poorly managed the budget for years. We need to hold them accountable for this mess and they need to get a reserve built and stop taking out pay day loans. They will tell you the crisis is COVID related but the State Auditor called the city out in October well before the current crisis.


The City Council and staff need to know that the community is paying attention and is going to hold them accountable. We need a more transparent process.Please participate in the meeting. You can send in questions via email to cityclerk@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us.  Please note that all questions will not be answered and they are not guaranteeing answers subsequent to the meeting. If you email please encourage them to answer all questions in writing on the city website. 

23k paid to consultants who advised cutting the library hours.

Management Partners, the consultants used to advise on budget issues, were first hired for a 25k contract to help revise the Strategic Plan. The original contract was for between $25,900 and $32,500 depending on whether the city had Management Partners do the public workshop or not. About half way through that contract the city modified the contract to have them to provide financial advice to the city. The scope of work includes the following:

You will note in the activities that there are several check ins with the City Manager before the report was to go to the City Council. The revised contract used $10,500 from the original contract and added an additional $12,500 to cost the city $23,000 for the consultants to bring up recommendations like cutting library hours that had already been voted on by the Council. The consultants did not have information to present on compensation rates comparisons between El Cerrito and comparably sized cities. We are left to suspect that the consultant prioritized only cuts suggested to them by City Staff.

We need YOU to run for City Council!

Three City Council Seats up for Election in November 

If you have felt like the City Council has not been representing you and the interests of the city now is the time to step up and run for council. In El Cerrito. traditionally the El Cerrito Democratic Club (which includes members that don’t live in El Cerrito) has designated the next council members. They do an endorsement and send out mailings to those who live in the city. All current members are of the Council are members of the ECDC with Council person Abelson and Mayor Lyman both part of the current leadership. The only declared person running for City Council is Margaret Kavanaugh Lynch and she too is a member of ECDC. It is anticipated that if Mayor Pro Tem Fadelli and Councilperson Pardue-Okimoto run again that ECDC will then again endorse them and it is likely that they will run unopposed. The only way for that to change is for other community members to step up and run. We encourage you to do so! The city information on running is reprinted below.

“In November of 2020, the terms of office for Mayor Lyman, Mayor Pro Tem Fadelli, and Councilmember Pardue-Okimoto will expire. On June 16, 2020, the City Council called an election for the purpose of electing three members to City Council. The term for each seat shall be four years, from November 2020 to November 2024. The nomination period for these offices will begin on Monday, July 13, 2020 and close on Friday, August 7, 2020 at 4 p.m. 

If nomination documents from any of the three incumbent officers of the city are not filed by Friday, August 7, 2020, the nomination period will be extended until Wednesday, August 12, 2020 at 4 p.m. During this extension period, no incumbent is allowed to file nomination documents.


To be eligible to run for City Council, a candidate must be a resident of El Cerrito and a registered voter at the time nomination documents are issued. The City Clerk is the Elections Official and primary contact for El Cerrito candidates. To best serve candidates, individuals interested in running for office are encouraged to contact the City Clerk to ask questions. Appointments will be required for issuance, review, and submission of nomination documents. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact the City Clerk at cityclerk@… or (510) 215-4305. Election information is also available online at http://www.el-cerrito.org

The struggle for transparency in El Cerrito

I wrote previously about the TRAN loans that have been keeping the city afloat since 2011. On May 21, 2020, I sent a request for information on the costs of these loans. It specifically said

“I saw in the supplemental slide set some info about the trans.

What I would like to know is

1. What year did the city first start getting trans? That year how much was it for, what was interest rate, and actual dollars of interest, and cost of obtaining the Tran (such as what is indicated in the contract you sent me for NBA) 2. From 2012 to current date the same info, interest rate, actual dollars paid in interest, and cost to obtain the loan.“

A week later I got a response from the City Clerk

“This information is available by searching the archives of agenda materials on our website at http://el-cerrito.org/Archive.aspx?AMID=43. “

That is the link to all agendas and minutes for El Cerrito City Council meetings. I was expected to go through them all. Many of them are over 100 pages long.

I unhappily replied

“With all due respect that is a ridiculous response. I am expected to go through years of agenda items to find this? Information that should be easily gotten from the finance department. This is not transparent government. ”

I recevied the following responses

“All of the information you are requesting is contained in the staff reports and resolutions. The results in the first two pages provide all the information you requested”

She then immediately sent this reply

‘My apologies, I tried to paste a link and accidently hit send. The results in the first two pages provide all the information requested.”

If you click on that link there are 2560 links below it.

I actually tried to dig through the materials. But I could not find the information for 2011 and 2014. (Though with further digging later I did find 2014) so on May 29, 2020, I sent the following reply

“I did dig through this. I am unable to find the cost of the loans (fees to obtain) for 2011 and 2014. And also wanted to confirm if WestAmerica had them.

I found this for 2014 listed but it seems like there was further action taken. I did search agendas for a few meetings past this with no luck. 

http://www.el-cerrito.org/DocumentCenter/View/3913/cc140819-7b?bidId=

All I found for 2011 was this

http://www.el-cerrito.org/DocumentCenter/View/1040/cc111121-5d?bidId=

If you could fill in these pieces I would appreciate it.”

I never received a reply to that email.

Others have also tried and not fared any better. I have let the Mayor and some city council members know and still not gotten a response.

I have been connected with some policy wonk researchers in the community. One of them did a dive into California Debt and Investment Advisory Commission (CDIAC) data that is available on the State Treasurers website. He complied the data in an excel worksheet and sent it to me. I have linked to it here. It shows TRANS for lower amounts going back to the 1990’s. Which as you remember was one of the questions I had in the original request-how long has this been going on for?

This experience is the epitome of what has been happening in El Cerrito. There is no transparency. The law requires that the city give information to its constituents. That obligation is clearly not being met by sending pages of thousands of links. It also says something that the city council members and mayor I reached out to over the past weeks were not able to get the information to me either.

I just just sent a new request for information on Fire Department Data. Some of this data has been long requested by others. It is hard for any of us to do an analysis on the Fire Department without data on overtime usage. We have not gotten data on how the city decided to not hire new staff but instead pay OT. Or how much the Kensington contract costs the city. Or how much we were reimbursed by the state for OT for state fires. Or how much OT was given for the fire fighters that stayed in our community when others were fighting state fires. It shouldn’t be this hard to get information from the city. If I, someone who knows how to dig and push, can’t get it, how is an average citizen suppose to get information? I have documented my efforts in both the TRAN request and this new request. I recently learned that there are lawyers that love this type of case. Because if the city refuses to give information and loses they pay lawyers fees. I feel like a city bordering on bankruptcy should not put itself in the position of a citizen having to take such severe action to get results.

Looking backwards-El Cerrito did not get into a 5.5 million dollar hole yesterday. Part Two of Two

El Cerrito is in the midst of a major financial crisis. This the second of two blog posts addressing four issues we have found with how El Cerrito has managed it’s financial issues for years. Please refer back to the first post here and that post has the references used here also. 

NO LONG TERM PLANNING BY STAFF

Although there were cautionary tales about limited revenues, etc. the city took a very short-term approach and narrow course of action when it came to growing reserves or managing costs. The City turned to the community for new taxes, but expenditures continued to rise.  

EVIDENCE

Since 2013 every year the report has named General Fund Budgets, Cash and Available Fund Balances as an issue. While the auditors did not begin stating that the city was at risk of not remaining a going concern (not going bankrupt) until 2017 the four years prior they called the lack of financial resources an issue and often recommended cost cutting measures. The City typically responded by stating that they anticipated a growth in revenues and would be monitoring expenditures.  

Since 2011 the city has been borrowing money to keep the city afloat. It started with 3.5 million dollars in 2011 and in 2019 last year was 9 million dollars. The interest in 2019 last year was $197,100 and the costs for the loans were an additional $33,000.

In 2014 when revenues were dropping the city decided to not look at budget cuts but to instead put a tax measure on the ballot (2014 CAFR page 32). They successfully passed Measure R, extending and RAISING the sales tax in El Cerrito. Many felt that the city was deceptive in their outreach for this tax and the city was warned by the California Fair Political Practices Commission for irregularities in a mailer backing Measure R. Many voters thought it was an extension of an existing tax, not a raise in taxes. 

Again at the close of 2017, the report issued to the city recommends a move toward cuts in order to bring spending in line with revenues.  The City response suggests otherwise, noting they are planning to launch another tax that will shore up revenue and reserves.  

And as recently as June 2019, when the independent auditor called out the city’s ability to continue as a going concern for the third straight year, the City Manager and Finance Director went before City Council and said everything was fine. The City Manager told the Council, “The City will be taking steps to restore a positive fund balance position through the upcoming biennial budget cycle and expects to successfully achieve this by FY 2021.”

 This was just 4 months before the state auditor called out that El Cerrito was 7th on the list of CA cities most likely to go bankrupt. 

BELIEF THAT STAFF WAGES NEED TO BE HIGH FOR STAFF RETENTION

There appears to be an assumption that in order to have quality staff, we have to compete with wages paid in larger metropolitan communities, wherein other communities of comparable populations have significantly lower costs. This has been repeated at numerous community meetings and most recently at City Council regarding education. As a result our expenditures in salaries and benefits increase even when not prudent to make such increases.  

EVIDENCE

Our city has 25k residents and 384 city employees of which 159 are full time. The cost per resident is $1,163, which is $328 per resident more than the next closest city of Albany. Our city has 132 more employees than San Pablo which has 5k more residents. 

Per Transparent CA in 2018, employee compensation rose almost 5 MILLION dollars from 2017 to $29,323,885 for 384 positions 159 of which are full-time. In 2017 there were 375 total positions and 138 were full time year round. These raises and additional positions were added even though the auditor had for two years warned the city about their ability to continue as a going concern. 

In the most recent negotiations with public safety staff COLAS were suspended for 2020 but promised for 2021.

In the City Council meeting on May 19th it was revealed that 25 staff members received car allowances of $300 a month. This is an outrageous number of staff with this benefit when a simple reimbursement for mileage for required travel could be implemented. This was costing the city 90K a year

When citizens have sent in public comments questioning the high staffing numbers they have heard council statements full of praise for their excellent staff. They have said that no comparisons to other cities can be made because we are a full service city. This definition has yet to be adequately described as most local cities also have their own police and fire departments, recreation departments and senior services. Albany has all of the above and runs on half the budget El Cerrito does.

So is it time for El Cerrito to take a deeper look at how it provides services? The personnel classification system? The number of management positions? Since 50% of our budget is dedicated to public safety, we may want to start there.  

There is a budget meeting June 9th at 1pm. Please send public comments in with your thoughts on the budget crisis. It is agenda item #2

To make a public comment

Public Comments may be submitted one of two ways:

Via email to Cityclerk@Ci.El-Cerrito.ca.us Email must contain in the subject line Public Comments ­ Not on the Agenda OR Public Comments ­ Agenda Item #.

Via Voicemail at (510)­306-­2558. The caller must start the message by stating Public Comments ­ Not on the Agenda OR Public Comments ­ Agenda Item # followed by their name and city of residence, followed by their comments