I went to the "Special Joint Meeting of the City Council, Boards and Commissions" get together last night at City Hall. I was a full 50% of the unappointed public in attendance, which meant that I had lots of room to put my iPad, laptop, notebooks, backpack and other assorted possessions. I was also able to get a parking spot right in front of City Hall. Which was nice. Police Chief Giannoni greeted me by name, as did the Mayor. I have never felt so very much at home in that place. They even have free wifi. Maybe I'll just move in.
The front of the room, or as Mayor Moran put it more than once, the extended dais, was packed with all sorts of commissioners and board members. The City Manager going so far as to declare it the best turnout of appointed officials she'd ever seen for an event such as this. And when you consider that this meeting was competing with the final presidential debate, the seventh game of the Giants and Cardinals league playoff series, an NFL football game, plus a whole new episode of The Voice (which has some devoted fans at my house), it really was quite an achievement.
As a matter of fact, the only invited grouping that did not show up were the dudes from the Green Committee. Not a single one of them came down to mingle with their fellow volunteers. I guess a burden like saving the planet can sometimes wear a body down, and the prospect of having to attend something like last night's soiree was asking just a little too much. Hopefully they'll be back on their feet for a moment of glory at tonight's City Council get together.
The meeting mostly consisted of Karin Schnaider giving her grand tour of the City's finances. I have heard this talk so often now that I was surprised at how little I didn't already know. It was like taking an updated refresher course. The news Karin supplied was not good, of course. The City's financial picture is bleak, and the sunsetting of the UUT, along with the disappearance of the CRA, is apparently at the heart of all this darkness. Employees are not paid very well, jobs are being eliminated, and things are just going to have to change if more revenue can't be found. Change in this case not being presented as being such a good thing.
Elaine Aguilar had kicked things off with the "we're a full service city" speech. This kind of worn out little marketing spiel has now gone way past its freshness dating in my opinion. According to Elaine we are just about the only "full service" city of its kind left. Which, when you consider the many financial woes facing Sierra Madre, does make you wonder what all those other cities know that we don't. Can it really be that everyone is wrong except us?
But I also don't think this is completely true. How can we be a full service city when we contract out for aquatics, pool operations, YMCA run after school care, park maintenance, grass cutting, janitorial services in all city buildings, dog catching, the round about bus, dial a rides, jails, detective services, building inspectors, fire dispatchers, structural engineers, computer maintenance, some development services and, of course, all those darn consultants?
The answer is we are no more a "full service city" than anybody else. We're just the only one that says we are. I really think that Elaine, and Josh for that matter, should just drop it. It plainly isn't true.
After Karin got done sharing all of the dismal financial news about lost CRA and UUT moneys, and how painful all of that can be for those who have to live with such unhappy numbers, the members of the Commissions and Boards were invited to ask questions. There were a handful of inquiries, but none were quite up to Tattler standards, I'm afraid. But they were well-intentioned, and in some ways that counts for a lot, too.
After that Mayor Moran declared the proceedings open to any members of the public who might wish to comment. It was the first time in my memory that this has ever happened at the end of a meeting. Perhaps he was saving the best for last. Both members of the public in attendance were eager to speak their minds anyway, and accepted Josh's belated invitation. I went second, or last, and what I had was the following question:
Will the finished 2013-2015 budget reflect the loss of UUT funding starting with the sunset date in July of 2014, or will the City hold off on factoring that in (or out) of the budget until after the UUT has gone to a vote for a second time? And if the loss of that UUT money is factored into the budget, will it be a balanced one, and how exactly would you do that?
Since Mayor Moran is convinced that he is the only member of the City Council who is equipped to answer questions, he fielded this one. And I have to admit that I was more than a little surprised by his answer. Apparently the City will be preparing two different budgets for this upcoming two year cycle. One that will take into account the will of the voters in our April 2012 municipal elections by including the loss of much of our UUT funding, and a second budget that does not.
What this indicates to me is that the Mayor, along with whomever at City Hall agrees with him, is set to challenge the 67% of the voting Sierra Madre public that said "No" to extending the 2008 UUT rate increases last April. It also indicates that last night's meeting had a political intent in addition to a budgetary one. The purpose apparently being to line up the support of commission and board members behind restoring the UUT back up to 10 (or 12) percent.
I guess this means that after giving themselves a nice utility tax cut, two years later the voting public is going to be asked to take that all away and give itself a tax increase. All without the rates ever actually changing. Kind of surreal if you think about it.
What this looks like to me is that the first salvo of the 2014 City Council race has now been shot. Josh is going to run for re-election on a campaign of raising the UUT rate back up to 10 (or 12) percent, making it once the highest in California. And he is going to do so in order to save our not quite full service city from becoming like all of those other not quite so full service cities.
Tax me, Josh?