Thursday, May 5, 2011

The City Council Special Meeting On the 2011-2013 Budget

This is going to be short and sweet. A rarity for this blog to be sure, but the situation calls for it. Despite that vast array of painstakingly detailed information given at last night's Special City Council Meeting on the 2011-2013 Budget, this isn't really all that complicated.

Two apparently converging themes have now emerged in the newly launched second coming of Mayor John Buchanan. And while it might be fairly early in his term to be making such a call, this is where he appears to be taking us. The directions at first seem to be opposites, but they actually move towards a common goal.

1) We need to remain a Full Service City. This is John Buchanan's mission. We need to run a town filled with everything people would ever want. It is what it means to "do good."

2) Revenues are down, and because of this the City has been forced to cut an average of 10% out of every department budget. With the exception of the Police, Fire and Paramedic budgets, of course. And as the years go on the situation isn't going to get much better. But rest assured, the City is doing everything it can under difficult circumstances.

City Hall is selling itself as a hard working outfit that is making the tough sacrifices necessary to keep everything together. But despite all that, the long range outlook is not great. Some valued things might have to go away. But, as Mayor Buchanan promised the people of Sierra Madre a week ago Tuesday, he is dedicated to keeping Sierra Madre a "Full Service City." It is the mission of his administration, and he is prepared to make unpopular decisions to keep his word. It is why he was elected.

So how do you rectify the sacrifices and cuts being made by City Hall with Buchanan's rather expensive vision of a City that forever serves the needs of all?

You are going to have to raise more money. And since taxes would take a popular vote of the people to happen, that cannot be depended upon. In an economy such as this one people are not likely to be in the mood to raise their own taxes for the second time in three years.

So it will have to be bonds. Perhaps as much as $50 millions worth. By my estimation that is what it will take to do things like fix the pipes, repave the roads and bring the sewer system up to the level necessary to "sustain growth." Which is the euphemism being used in place of "development."

Last night's meeting wasn't just about the numbers. It was also marketing. Rather than a push poll, this was a push meeting. You need the City to help maintain your quality of life, the City needs more of your money to make that happen. So you need to agree to the raising of more money, and the only way that can be done now is through the sale of bonds.

Nothing about this is rocket science. Watch as this scenario plays out over the next few meetings. I don't know if John and his allies will succeed, but they are certainly prepared to do everything they can to make it happen.

Arianna Speaks: Over on Le Patch right now is an article from Arianna Huffington, the woman famously given $315 million by Aol for her website. She apparently has initiated a new philosophy for the 800 hyperlocal site strong Patch, one that incorporates "blogs" onto the premises. Bloggers, as you know, are desirable mostly because they write for no money. Which, given the fiscal situation the McBlog now finds itself in, is probably a necessity.

In what is becoming perhaps the greatest trainwreck in internet history, Patch is apparently consuming vast amounts of Aol's dwindling cash reserves. Here is how Forbes puts it:

No wonder AOL is so eager to get folks writing for free for Patch. The internet giant pumped $40 million into its network of hyperlocal news sites in the first quarter of 2011, and it will almost certainly lose well in excess of $100 million on the venture this year. That's on top of the $75 million AOL put into the venture last year, mind you.

The total amount lost could be near $200,000,000 by year's end, friends. Add that to the $315 mill Aol paid for the Huffington Post and you're talking some serious cash money.

The Tattler, on the other hand, is estimated to have lost around $150 dollars over the last year. This mostly in costs accrued through the purchase of copy paper, printer ink, a new Mr. Coffee and a subscription to an on-line news research site. The good news is we are now watching costs.

Bonus Coverage: Big congrats to The Sage of Altadena and his Altadenablog on hitting the rather incredible 1 million page view mark this week. More proof that if you cover all those things the more traditional forms of media refuse to touch, they will come. People want to know.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

56 comments:

  1. A Sierra Madre citizen that votes.May 5, 2011 at 6:35 AM

    Sounds good to me, let's move forward Mr. Mayor, I am 100% behind Mr. Buchanan.

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  2. $50 million in additional bond debt sounds like a good idea to you? The City can barely handle the $19 million in bond debt it has now. And while you're at it, please explain what exactly it is we'll get from all this money.

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  3. I think "fool service city" would be a better way of describing it.

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  4. Mr. Civic ValuesMay 5, 2011 at 7:27 AM

    We could be a full service city if we would contract for police services. As Mayor Grecian Ginger Head says, our budget choices reflect our values. We apparently value a 35 member police force that does no more than write traffic tickets and after the fact crime reports at 51% of our general fund. That percentage will increase as the police cost is largely fixed, and revenues are heading down.

    Let's act like grown ups. Let's choose police cars painted a different pattern of black and white and say "Sheriff" on the side. Let's save - use Dr. Evil voice here - ONE MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR - by contracting for police services. The savings can be used to clean the Heasley Field bathrooms, buy Stone House for a park, or have a city wide beer bash, or something else that reflects our true values.

    PS: $1 million annual savings computed assuming SM can get same deal with Sheriff as La Canada sing actual published budget figures from each city. SM can do better, as La Canada has twice our population, four times our area, and a real business base.

    PS2: Can it possibly be that the face of our civic values is that of Officer Berry, shaking down senior citizens for donations to the police union?

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  5. The City has made no serious attempt to economize.Instead ,more debt.That may be OK for the US government.They can print money but Sierra Madre can not.The Citizens carry the burden.I would suggest an independent Citizens Committee be formed who will aggressively challenge any attempt by the City to increase the debt without first looking at the city's budget.LA city has offered their civilian employees a choice in taking unpaid furlough days or a salary cut.There are other economies that can also be put in place before encumbering the city with further debt!People,don't act like your are already beaten..You are NOT!

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  6. Will the $50M cover the new Buchanan Memorial Library and the Elaine Aguilar counter shrine?

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  7. They will sell it as only the price of a
    Starbucks Latte for the rest of your life.

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  8. Why didn't Weaver make cuts? Guess she is too busy planning the new volunteer breakfast. So far 10 people are attending and that includes staff. Weaver and her crew need to go. They only do the jobs that were done by volunteers in the past.

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  9. Old enough to know betterMay 5, 2011 at 8:07 AM

    "A full service city?" My horse's patoot! As a life long resident of this community I've only felt the urgent need for a miniscule amount of what Buchanan calls "full service". Police and fire? That's two. Plus water and sewer, what more does a human need? I implore you Mr. Buchanan, seek to acquire your own life's enrichment and leave us the blank blank blank alone.

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  10. The real agenda at work is development. Money must be raised to improve infrastructure so that developers will find Sierra Madre worth their time. Which means Johnny U.S. Bonds wants to get us to pay for things we do not want or need. Just like with the water rate increase, these people are not telling us the truth.

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  11. Buchanan's years of dedication to the BIA, CRA, DIC and the Arcadia Realtors is noted. But you have to ask, what is in it for him?

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  12. I'm with Old Enough.
    Cut our expenses.
    We need police, fire, paramedics, water and sewer. That's it.
    And it looks like the poster who knows the La Canada stats has a great idea to cut part of the budget for one of the five essentials.

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  13. It was the City Council Special Marketing Meeting on the Budget. You know Mr. Buchanan loves marketing.

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  14. Wouldn't now be a perfect time to change the police department?

    The chief is retiring, so there will be reorganizing anyway.

    The sheriff could use the facilities - would probably be an enticement for them to take the contract.

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  15. Mayor Buchanan was rolling out some new product. Tonight's portion of the presentation was: "The poor City Staff is doing whaver they can to preserve our full service city." Soon the Mayor will offer us a solution.

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  16. Let's add to the essentials keeping the pool open and functioning. Last time there was discussion about closing it there was a lot of protest from seniors who use it for health and parents of young children who use it for recreation.

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  17. That could be the Tattler survey! One question:
    What are the essential services in Sierra Madre?

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  18. I can't believe that AOL thought the nickname "hyperlocal" was a good choice. In fact, i thought that was a nickname that came from smart alec bloggers. Looks like it was a corporate decision. "hyper" anything is not good.

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  19. For anyone who has taken the push poll, were any questions on it about full service city, or city services?

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  20. Did anyone catch the set aside for Coluantano & Levin? No? What else isn't included in the presentation to the public in the $8+ million budget? And the TOTAL budget of $21+ million? As if it's all funny money and nobody really cares? Last night was a smoke and mirrors presentation by the City Council. The staff is as much a victim here as the taxpayers. Buchanan is attempting to pull the wool over all of our eyes, telling the staff we're going forward as if the money is there - and yet trying to make the taxpayers think cuts are being made.

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  21. A real budget cut would include a hiring freeze, no cost of living, and furloughs - just like most of the surrounding communities! Not for Buchanan. He'll balance the inflated budget by issuing bonds. Somewhere around 2020 we'll be issuing bonds to pay for the bonds.

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  22. Let's rehab more city facilities so we can subsidize more programs that we'll open to residents of other communities because we've acccepted government funds. $500 annually for a YAC program to be run by the Y when it cost almost $2,000,000 to build, remodel and keep up the room? Let's get real here folks. We can't afford to be the shiny city of the hill.

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  23. Everything out of Buchanan's mouth must be questioned. I think in a previous life he sold snake oil at country fairs. I think he thinks we're all rubes.

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  24. read the budget. attend the community services meeting this month. ask questions. demand answers. it's your money.

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  25. Pasadena Star News: "Caltrans audit questions management practice of San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments."
    http://pasadenastarnews.com/ci_17995234

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  26. Sierra Madre Books is closing? That's what Patch says! Too bad nice folks and a terrific shop.

    But the real news is more of a question... Where in the world is John Stephens? Not a word from him since inviting the John Crawford to blog on the Patch. Did Stephens fail in his bid to bring in the requisite number of bloggers? His name is still on the "masthead" but no Stephens. And that sorry "post" from Arianna. Does she not know she's the kiss of death to the "hyperlocals"? I think we're seeing Patch in metamorphosis. Will the butterfly emerge?

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  27. Well there you go. The book store is closing because we didn't have a parking study In place and there was no consultant to tell them what titles to stock. We have all failed as citizens.

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  28. I'm also sorry that nice store won't be there, but who knows, it could be a life choice for the owners, rather than something about Sierra Madre.
    That said, no one can expect to have a big bumping business in a town that is just geographically inconvenient enough and only has a population of 11,000. People can have nice businesses here, but bumping? Probably not. Remember our number 1 industry: real estate

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  29. Our #2 business is bonds sales. Followed by consultant employment services.

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  30. An argument could be made that the top 4 industries we support are:
    1) PR firms
    2) Consultants
    3) Bond sales
    4) Real estate

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  31. We are also among the San Gabriel Valley's largest providers of dog and pony shows.

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  32. Part of the full service, 12:08.

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  33. There is also City of Sierra Madre Obfuscation Services. In particular their most active department, Soft Soaping and Resident Money Extraction.

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  34. Don't forget the City of Sierra Madre Absolution Services Department.

    Lie,lie,lie and emerge unscathed.

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  35. Let me transfer you to the "we never said that" desk...please hold...

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  36. There is a sort of perfect confluence - Patch can cover the dog and pony shows, and Henderson and the Weekly can cover the lie and deny.

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  37. Yes, good point. Both are compliant with the "it isn't news until the press release is issued" requirement.

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  38. What a loss to the community of Sierra Madre when the Mount Wilson Observer was no more.
    That was a truly "Local" paper that managed to combine both the more lighthearted community news and events, and in full measure present our city politics and the struggles thereof.
    What the Mount Wilson Observer became once Susan Henderson got it in no way resembles the original.

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  39. Do you remember the citizens group the City Council put together for studying the city finances to come up with the UUT?

    Smart financial bunch of folks with their hands tied by instructions at the first meeting: you ar not to look over any of the ways the city could cut costs.

    ...and now this. Should have been cutting costs long ago.

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  40. City Hall's first priority is its own economic sustainability. Why it should be economically sustained at its present level isn't really clear.

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  41. Surely one of the most frustrating things about politics in Sierra Madre is to hear great suggestions come from residents that are ignored by councils.

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  42. Is there any problem with a group of concerned citizens gathering together with the city budget and coming up with a plan? We've got the talent, the experience and plenty of accounting types? When we're done, we'll present it to the Council!

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  43. 2:03 awesome!

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  44. Sierra Madreans for Sane Financial PracticesMay 5, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    Go for it 2:03. If you're willing to organize and coordinate, I'm sure you can get an exceptional brain trust going on.

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  45. 6:35 a.m. may vote, but doesn't punctuate well. That post reads as though the Tattler is being addressed as mayor.
    Of course the use of a percentage pledge for Bonds boy cleared things up.

    Why would a Buchananista begin his or her morning with a Tattler read?

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  46. You ask why, 3:38? More than likely a Buchananista who wants to know what the Tattler thought of last night's Special Council Budget Meeting. Where else could they take the temperature of the opposition? I suspect more than a few followers of the newly crowned Mayor had their day spoiled after reading Sir Eric's take on the presentation.

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  47. Or maybe they were kicking caffeine and got the blood moving with a dose of The Tattler.

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  48. Hate to throw cold water on all of this,but without a new Council,nothing will change.The current establishment is, as we well know,subsidized by interest which will forever alter the character of our community.Simply put,THEY have the votes,Period!

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  49. The Gang of Phor can pass bonds if they like. But we will put the question on the ballot for the people to decide. Believe me, it is already being worked on. We will not let 4 idiots put Sierra Madre into that kind of debt just so they can please a bunch of rich developers. Sierra Madre is not Sacramento.

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  50. 4:53 Thank you.You give me some hope.Where can I send a check?I am not kidding!

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  51. Sit tight, friend. Big things are on the way. And sooner than you might think.

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  52. Anyone surprised?May 5, 2011 at 7:52 PM

    Who from the PUSD folks participates in the San Gabriel CoG? Lot of similarities.
    From the PSN article.

    "Caltrans audit alleges the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments mismanaged a $245,130 Gold Line grant and improperly awarded contracts for consulting work.

    The COG is a joint powers authority of which 31 cities, three county supervisors and three water agencies are members. Its mission is to address issues that affect the entire San Gabriel Valley and give the region a greater voice in federal, state and county government.

    Caltrans auditors also allege the COG, and its executive director Nick Conway, practiced poor bookkeeping, made overpayments, created overlapping billing times, and produced deviations from contracts."

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  53. Sounds like the same business model the Gang of 4 uses.

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  54. Are these the little cities of the San Gabriel Valley that Joe says he represents?

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  55. I hear all those little cities are planning on throwing Joe a party out of gratitude for all of the many amazing things he has done for them.

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  56. I think some of the staffers from Senators Feinstein's office will be there as well. After Joe schooled them on the importance of water their professional lives changes, and for the better.

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