The Green Committee won't be there in any official capacity because they are not a commission. Their moment to shine isn't until the following night, which does make you wonder about the social equity of it all. And if the GC wasn't heritage homogeneous there might have been some grumbling about supercilious ethnocentrism. They're like that, you know. But the City Council will be up in the hizzy, along with Community Services, the somewhat truncated Library Board (though they do all "fit in," to use Councilmember Walsh's social yardstick), the Planning Commission, the Seniors, and the Tree Advisory Commission. And what they'll be hearing will be an involved tale about the state of the City of Sierra Madre's finances, all as interpreted by our City Manager Elaine Aguilar.
Apparently things are not financially quite what some had hoped they would be. Of course, others might believe that what we are beginning to see here is an evolution of the City towards a more cost efficient and modern governmental model that relies upon the contracting out of services to live within a budget that is more to the liking of those who actually pay for it. That being the taxpayers.
This is the first of what will be a four meeting road onto the creation of a 2013/2015 Budget. Or the "budget cycle" if you live for the use of appropriate terminology. This will be followed by the City Council "giving direction," the actual budget preparation by the City Manager and her Court, and then the final deliberations and approval by the City Council. The veritable World Series of the budget playoff process.
Now if you wish to go through the whole thing allow me to direct you to the actual documentation as prepared by City Staff. You can access it all by clicking here.
What I'd like to do is bring out into the open the elephant in the room. Because there is one big thing overshadowing all that is to be discussed.
The main thrust of the argument being put forward by our somewhat jumped-up City Manager will be that, in her opinion, this is what the budget ought to look like. Not what the people of Sierra Madre said they wanted when killing off the UUT extension last April. And as such it will be a political appeal for the another round of UUT voting in 2014, rather than a dispassionate and realistic look at the parameters unmistakeably provided by those whose taxes pay for everything.
This is pretty much at the heart of what will be presented tomorrow night by the City Staff. The UUT extension was shot down by the voters last April, and the consequences of that, at least in their minds, are apparently too emotionally difficult to deal with. And because of that they likely won't do it. Rather Staff will provide for all in attendance a presentation on what they hope will happen should the next UUT extension measure be passed 18 months from now. This being the budget that would have been in the works had last April's UUT Measures actually passed. Which to me will indicate that they are not interested in appropriately recognizing the will of the voters, or dealing with the fiscally inconvenient consequences of the peoples' legally sanctioned wishes.
Some salient facts. Costs continue to rise, driven mostly by the raises given to our highly litigious Police Department. The Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) money we used to rely upon to paper over the cracks was taken away by that financial back hole known to some of you as Sacramento. Which is quickly sucking anything of value into its unquenchable fiscal vortex of doom. Property taxes here are in decline, ironically due in large part to the collapse in value of our two largest payers, One Carter LLC and CS Stonehouse LLC. A pair of rotten eggs that were apparently counted long before they hatched. Which, of course, they never did. Or ever will.
And where this all leads is to the sunsetting of the Utility User Tax. The UUT as currently constituted comprises a full 31% of the General Fund. Here is how this is described in the City Staff report:
Since 2008, the voter increase in the Utility User Tax (UUT) has resulted in making this funding source an important resource to meet this City's needs. The increased UUT revenues were linked to increases in public safety services and public safety salaries. In addition, the UUT provided the necessary funding to allow the City to continue to deliver Paramedic Services. The City's legal maximum taxable rate is 12% for FY 2012-2013 and FY 2013-2014. On July 1, 2014 the City's taxable rate is 10% due to a sunset clause in the 2008 UUT ordinance which was not extended in 2012. The City Council directed that the tax collection rate be set at 10% since 2010 (water and sewer collection is 9%).
Without an extension to the 2008 UUT ordinance, the UUT collection rate will diminish to 8% on July 1, 2015 and diminish again by 2% down to 6% on July 1, 2016. This loss is estimated to be $500,000 per 2% loss in tax rate and be an aggregate loss of 12% or $1 million of the City's General Fund total revenues by 2016. As expenditures increases are growing faster than revenues by nearly 2% annually, the potential budget cuts may possibly exceed 20% when compounding 2013-2106 budgets and when factoring in the loss of the 4% in UUT tax rate. Add this to the 12% cuts taken in the last two years, revenues remaining flat but service costs increasing, a balanced City budget would require an almost 30% reduction in services since 2010.
The above reads like a lot of the campaign rhetoric put out by those favoring the UUT extension ballot measures of earlier this year. It certainly does not reflect the wishes of the voting taxpayers who, in overwhelming numbers, turned down those UUT Measures. And in doing so expressed their wish that the City cut its budgets and get those never ending cost increases under control.
So there you go. Will this 4 part 2013-2015 Budget marathon of weighty deliberations be the beginning of a political campaign designed to get the voters to reverse their decision to not extend the UUT increases of 2008? Or will it instead reflect the judgement made by the voters in April of 2012?
It seems to me that in a properly functioning democracy the government would answer to the will of the people. After all, they are the ones paying the bills. And that City Hall really does have a legal obligation to prepare a budget that fully takes into account a UUT that will begin to sunset in July of 2014. Because that is what the voters, the ultimate authority both here and in the rest of America, overwhelmingly decided last April.
I'd hate to think that City Hall, along with the Mayor and the Mayor Pro Tem, might have decided instead to use these very important deliberations as a campaign stunt designed to somehow make happen what they want to happen, rather than what the voters have clearly already decided.
But who knows, maybe they thought we were just kidding.
Let the show begin.