Saturday, May 16, 2015

So Where Does All Of Sierra Madre's Money Go? Plus: Arcadia Nailed On Brown Act Violations

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The Budget Input Roadshow rolls on, and maybe you've been to one of those many outreach events, or are planning on doing so soon. But if you are going, you really do need to check out the Community Services Commission Agenda Packet, which was put together by city staff for their meeting next Tuesday. There is much more in the way of meatier budgetary "hard numbers" than anything that is being passed out at the outreach events. It's the inside baseball stuff you might have been looking for, but hadn't been able to get your mitts on yet.

And yes, there are spending increases. Not surprisingly, most of them are for CalPERS, employee benefits, and all of that overtime. The city's past shenanigan era giveaways to Sierra Madre's municipal employee unions are today literally blowing up the budget, but then you probably already knew about that. Here is where the real dough is being spent, and at ever higher numbers.

This should have been dealt with a few years ago, but somehow was ignored. I guess this kind of stuff wasn't a priority during the administrations of Mayors Buchanan, Mosca, Moran and Walsh. After all, there was that restroom problem at Memorial Park to deal with. And how many here lost sleep over the issue of where to store the pingpong table at the Hart Park House?

So what is all of this really telling us? That City Hall never was very serious about the UUT sunsetting. Or somehow lived in a world of special denial where it was possible to believe this wasn't ever going to happen. The result being that no matter how much money they're going to get now, it can never be enough.

And now with the UUT beginning to sunset its way back down to 6%, there is not a chance in Hades that City Hall will be getting the cash they need to sustain this level of spending.

Here are the numbers from the Community Services documents.


I ran these numbers past Robert Fellner at Transparent California (link). They ponder the budgets and spending of a few thousand city governments in California and Nevada rather deeply, so I figured a dispassionate outside look into the financial goings on here in the Foothill Village might be valuable.

And while Robert is the first to admit that he is not as intimately aware of the internal goings on here as maybe you might be, the guy does know his stuff. Here are a few things that jumped out at him.

The library costs nearly as much as fire services?!

They really can’t do much about CalPERS now that they are locked in; part of the reason that type of system is terrible for the public sector. Politicians can enact it, once it becomes costly they are long out of office and other people pay for it. It really depends on the specifics of the town.

If people there love their library, that’s a cost to bear, but it seems really high.

I’m sure they could do much more to cut the cost of healthcare. They could ask employees to contribute more. They could immediately stop paying the employee’s share of CalPERS contributions for police. That would save a bunch.

Enrolling the part-time firefighters into the reduced CalPERS rate to save on OT seems like a decent idea.

I don’t know specifics about crime and the police there, but it seems like a lot of cops for a small town. Reducing size of department by even 1 or 2 employees would generate huge savings.

Obviously City officials are never going to suggest you eliminate their jobs or reduce their pay – so all of this needs to come externally from the commissioners and elected officials.

I don’t know enough about the specifics of Sierra Madre to definitely say what should be cut and what shouldn’t. But obviously all city-produced reports/suggestions are always going to be made with the best interest of city employees in mind.

It does seem like 2015 is turning out to be a very interesting year.

Bonus Coverage!

Pasadena Star News ... Experts: Arcadia officials violated California’s open meetings law - Arcadia officials violated the Brown Act when they made three key policy decisions in closed session, law and governance experts said Friday.

At a meeting last week, officials voted to shelve a comprehensive update to the city’s residential and commercial zoning codes, postpone the Neighborhood Impacts Committee and move forward with a citywide historic preservation survey, sans the Highland Homeowner’s Association.

City Attorney Steven Deitsch reported the decisions at the City Council meeting May 5. Deitsch said the decisions came as a result of a lawsuit filed against the city targeting mansionization.

Kelly Aviles, open government attorney and vice president of Californians Aware (link), said just because there are ties between the lawsuit and policies does not mean the council can go into closed session to talk about it.

“You can’t make decisions that are tangential to the lawsuit because you happen to be in litigation, and you cannot do an end-run around the public’s right to comment or be involved in policy changes just because they relate to the litigation,” she said.

Open Government Advocate Gil Aguirre said the city attorney should have advised officials to make the policy changes and then each item should have subsequently been put on an agenda, discussed and voted on in open session.

“The problem you have is that they effectively made three important policy decisions that affect the community, and yet the community was excluded from ever having an opportunity to address these officials before the decision was made,” Aguirre said. “This sort of secret behavior is exactly what the Brown Act intends to stop.”

(Mod: Gil Aguirre and Kelly Aviles back on the front lines. There is hope for Arcadia yet. Link to the rest of the article here.)

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

58 comments:

  1. Our budget is out of whack for one reason: we spend too much on police services.

    Fact: SM spends $3.4 million for police

    Fact: La Canada spends $3.0 million (see budget on line)

    They have twice our population, more business, three times our area, and a general fund of over $11 million.

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  2. I feel funny about all of this outreach and input. I'd hoped the city council would just get this done. We voted for it. That should have been enough. The input meetings thing almost feels like avoidance.

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  3. How do you spell failure? B2MW. Buchanan, Mosca, Moran and Walsh.

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  4. Just watched last Planning Commission meeting and had a great laugh when new mayor Cappocia told of conversation he had with official from city of South Gate. A new Walmart went in that town and brought in 3 million in taxes. Great Mr Mayor where do we put that new Walmart? Lol

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    1. The monastery?

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    2. We are geographically inconvenient. That is why it has taken so long for the development disease to get here, and why something like a Walmart would never work here.
      Geographic inconvenience.

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    3. That is a blessing.

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  5. Several times over the last year I have driven by 2 police cars stopping one car. I remember one time looking at a senior citizen being questioned by 2 officers from 2 police cars. I don't understand that, other than wondering if they are building their stats to show they need more officers. Also some times I see the Fire Department loading an ambulance and there are several police officers standing around on the lawn and sidewalk watching what is going on. I would understand if they were directing traffic or crowd control but they were just standing around talking with each other. Can anyone enlighten me on what is going on to justify so much time spent standing around?

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  6. I don't think there can be any doubt that our Police Department can be cut back a bit. It is way too expensive and honestly when anything bad happens they bring in the Sheriffs anyway. They're just not worth the money they're getting. The things they are doing now can be accomplished by a smaller force. I understand that a lot of people want to keep a PD here in town. I get that. Now they need to compromise a little and support a cutback in personnel. That should be the price of keeping the department.

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  7. Sierra Madre was recently identified as one of the safest cities so maybe there is room to prudently reduce the police budget a bit. If you go line item by line item, there are always areas to cut - and we are not talking about cutting services as people always claim will happend when you cut. We are talking about cutting the inefficiencies, bloat and redundancy that you everywhere including in the smallest company in the private sector.

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    1. So we're temple city and la Canada who use lasd.

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  8. One thing that we see happening is that as cities mismanage their money and spend to much on the salaries, benefits and pensions for the public employees, they then are forced to ruin their city through over-development. That's exactly what the people at Mater Dolorosa want us to do. They are now pushing their plan to be the great saviors who will solve all of our budget problems if we just let them build that little tiny project up there at the monastery that would end up being the largest housing project Sierra Madre has seen in decades. We cannot be enticed by the carrot they are dangling. They are almost circling the sky like vultures hoping that our budget problems will get so bad that we turn to them for help. We can't make land use decisions based upon fear. Budgets are temporary. Revenue streams ebb and flow. Changing the character of Sierra Madre into something more akin to Arcadia is irrevocable.

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  9. How about looking to contract out paramedic service to Arcadia, and our fire department to LA County. Very few volunteers on it as we pay for all engineers and most of others are new and our city is paying for their training before they move on to bigger departments.

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  11. I see many police cars parked in front of houses, for long periods and no visible activity going on. I heard they were supposed to walking beats in neighborhoods, never seen that. I see a lot of side by side meetings on the street-chatting from their cars. Are they discussing plans for the future? When crimes are sent to the detectives, I don't think I'ver ever heard what happened in the end. All and all I see little value in this police department. I'd like to hear what the rank and file have to say about their work day. The library could be run by volunteers and a Librarian. I keep going back to Elaine saying that volunteers for the water monitoring would have to be trained. Like it's a big deal! It's not rocket science. But volunteers sometimes see things that go on in government that no one wants seen. Of course city halls method is to scare us into thinking that they must cut the departments that citizens us the most. We fall for it every time. Let the city go bankrupt. Then it can be reformed properly. Vote with some insight in the future. Unlike Harabedian and Goss get out of the part line. Vote with your own brain.

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    1. I agree, 8:27. Despite the worst Mayor ever Nancy Walsh saying "We put you in and we can take you out" to the General Plan Update Steering Committee members (particularly Denise Delmar), we still have lots of people who would be more than happy to volunteer. Train to see sprinklers go on in the rain? I think I could manage that!

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  12. Arcadia is breaking the law all over the place as they try to shove big development projects down the throats of the residents. Could this be the slippery slope that was referred to in yesterday's post where you go from doing a favor for one well-connected constituent to accepting bribes to allow a large housing project. Very hard to prove but it goes on all the time. I'm glad the Highlands HOA is suing the city and exposing the corruption. Why would the City Council of Arcadia try to thwart the will of the Highlands HOA that had rejected those two big homes of over 5,000 square feet? Whose pulling their strings? Why is the City Council voting the way they are? Are there hidden conflicts of interest or even outright bribery going on here? That's what the good residents of Arcadia may be up against.

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    1. Exactly. Harabedian was acting in a very Arcadia way.

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  14. How common (and pathetic) is it to have public outreach programs on budget? Are we that inept? What does Transparent California say happens in other cities in that regard? The symbol for these meetings could very well be an empty tin cup being held out by the City Manager. Wait a minute. If she can't manage shouldn't she be fired?

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    1. Our City Manager is one that always needs more money to get things done. We need a City Manager who knows how to get things done with what is already available.

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  15. This is all not new. An over staffed City Hall and a self serving City Manager.
    A way too big police force of which several really do what?

    Time to act and get rid of people who waste time and money in City Hall, our own police dept and a worn out City Manager who has proven over and over she can manipulate and not manage.

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  16. Do any of the old timers remember how big city staff was 30 years ago or more? 20 years ago?
    Our population hasn't changed so the size of our city staff shouldn't have either.

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  17. Q) How can you tell that you've arrived at Sierra Madre's city limits?
    A) There are two police cars, four cops and one black man who is sitting on the curb.

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  18. It isn't so much the money I'm being taxed. I can afford that, and probably more. The part that gets to me is the feeling I am being ripped off. Or taken advantage of. That is what gets to me.

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  19. For that amount of money, for each book that is checked out from our library, the city could have purchased the book and shipped it to the person with return postage.

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    1. Interesting point. How many books are checked out of the library every year?

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    2. The library, like almost all libraries, is a charming white elephant.
      If it could combine its purposes with some other city use, it might survive.
      As a place for books, it won't.

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  20. Great Saturday Article!

    City Halls money needs to be taken away before city hall will address any issues!

    Sierra Madre has to much over head,,, to many city employees, so many union expenses, to many salaries & to many health benefit expenses!

    The cancer spending needs to stop or city hall will be forced to purchase a printing press to print moore mooney or file bk!

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    1. They get friendlier when they're broke.

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    2. A friend with weed is a friend indeed.

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    3. Will look busy for spare change.

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  21. Its your choice!

    What does the residents need more...

    1) the library or the fire department?

    2) our city manager & public works director or water?

    3) I blame the past "city council(s)" for allowing this cancer spending and poor decisions to continue to spread!

    4) we need to take away the city's monies, we need to cut overhead, there needs to be better deceissions made as to spending, other wise there will be no monies available for infrastructure repairs!

    ask Bruce Inman why "he choose" to run the city out of water, drought or no drought!

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    1. I sorry but I don't understand how Bruce Innman caused the greatest drought in 200 years? Our wells ran dry blame Jesus...........You can't get water out of a rock

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    2. Jesus can. But only if the rock isn't Bruce.

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    3. Arcadia is sucking up all the water in the basin. We may as well spike it with LSD if they continue their thievery. I'm just kidding homeland security if you're watching

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    4. Would that be psychedelic blended water?

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    5. "Psychedelic blended water." Please blend away, it'll be easier to live in Arcadia.

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  22. Cut nothing. Convert police services to lasd.

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    1. I don't think lasd is free? or LSD for that matter.

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  23. So Paramedics are going to cost 700k in the future? And La Habra's program cost 200k? Again, why is our paramedic program so much more expensive? We've also only had it since 2007. If we get rid of that, we're pretty much whole. Police department gets to choose a 10% cut or we go to an outside police force. Then, when the water bonds are retired in 2019, we can revive the paramedic program, because we no longer have debt payments to make.

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    1. The 1998 water bonds are done in 2019. They we get to pay Bart Doyle's 2003 "interest only" water bond down through 2033, I believe. Ouch.

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  24. Don't know much about our police department but here are a few thoughts regarding reducing costs.

    Instead of hiring new recruits and training them, hire retired already trained officers on a part time bases.

    Establish shift hours that benefit the city, not just the police department members.

    Know that critics argue that law enforcement agencies should not be part of the revenue-generating process.

    Contract with local police departments for services that SM doesn’t require enough to warrant hiring full time paid positions or that may be less expensive in the long run.

    Increasing business traffic increases crime and police department costs, take steps to not promote excess downtown business costs.

    Involve officers in the problem-solving process of saving money, items like turning off vehicles when just sitting in one place for more than 5 min, get officer feedback on how they would save money.

    Learn what is a standard number of police officers per thousand population and work towards these numbers if we are out of line. Keep in mind that Sierra Madre is not a high crime rate city.

    Does Sierra Madre do crime mapping to identify trends and patterns and allocate personnel accordingly for maximum savings and safety?

    Have local volunteers ride along with officers, volunteers can stay in the back ground and act as observers and radio back up.

    Seriously evaluate cost savings of going with the Sheriffs Department and keep personal interests out of the equation.

    Do note that just like the Sheriffs Department Sierra Madre Police Officers also live out of the city so reporting to work in an emergency would be the same. If I could attend a budget meeting these are some of what I would bring up. It is time that Sierra Madre reduces police costs, so, I would think the above mentioned have been covered but just in case here is my 2 cents worth.

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  25. Let me see, reduce library services or reduce life saving services. Were not going to vote on that one are we?

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  26. After reviewing all of the spreadsheets that John shared, it's quite obvious that we need to get personnel and overall employee costs under control. They indicate personnel expenditures will rise from $176,000 to $350,000 in the next couple of years. WTH? All of the payroll costs look like they're growing geometrically rather than arithmetically, so we need to focus on that at this budget meeting. Why should all of the residents suffer financially, but the public employees receive the gift of immunity from a rollback in pay? If they overextended their personal budgets and can't deal with a 15% pay cut or more contribution to their pensions and health care, that's not our problem. Remember everyone, with the advent of CalPERS, it's now public employees versus the city residents. CALPERS is effectively the largest union in the country now with the demands they put on municipalities, even though they aren't officially a union per se.

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  27. Too hard. Yoda say best solution easiest sometimes. Contract with lasd, save $1 Million per year, and make this the county's problem.

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  28. You all forget that even if the police and fire are sent to contract, the City still has to pay the other agencies for the service. You all seem to think that the County or whoever took over the services that they would be free. Keep in mind when comparing figures, that the fire department costs would be way higher if we didn't have some volunteer fire personnel. Most if not all of the paramedics are part-timers getting minimum wage. The City had to go to a partially paid fire dept. to conform to State requirements, but it is still a very big bargain that would cost much more to farm out. The P.D. is also working on State mandates as far as personnel is concerned in order to have 24/7 coverage. the City can probably get the Sheriff's for much less, for much less service - e.g. no dispatch from our own station. You pick, what do you want out of a City? And why did you move to Sierra Madre? Is it all take and no give? I could let the police go, but that is still not going to solve the problem in the long run. I could let the library go, but that absolutely would not solve the problem.

    You want to stop big development because you want Sierra Madre to stay a "quaint little city". Well, a quaint little city costs money to run. I'm not advocating big development and am a contributing member of the Save Sierra Madre group, but, I'm comparing the idea of less development and less services, no community spirit, with the idea of keeping the city small requires some sacrifices for all of its citizens.

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  29. To add to the post I just submitted: If I were running for City Council now, I would advocate an 8% UUT with No sunset.

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    1. Why 8%?. 6% was suppose to cover it.

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  30. Maybe the prostitutes that run rampant in the Sheriff patrolled area near Michillinda and Rosemead and Colorado Bl. could expand their are to S.M. it the lasd takes over?

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    1. At last. A successful business in downtown Sierra Madre. Think of all the new members for the Chamber of Commerce.

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  31. Let's see. 2 paramedics a day at $10 per hour. That's $175.000 Per year. Because they are part time they don't get benefits. Why is it $700,000 in the budget?and do you think we are going to find someone for less than minimum wage?

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    1. Or is the city loading other costs into the paramed budget? Hmm.

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  32. 4:35 seems to know what's running rampant, and 3:57 doesn't know that the higher the density the more the cost. Also, just because you go with the SD you dont have to go with their FD. SM could never replace our FD for less money. City administration has been running this city for 20 some years and look where it's gotten us. We have lost our water source and are buying crappy water, water were paying more for that some people can't drink. The old school has put us in this mess, I think it is time the council did their jobs and replaced the city manager for a start. The city manager has been hiring her acquaintance and that has proven not to be good for our town, we need new leadership and that should come straight from the council, unless they don't have the nerve and know how to do it.

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  33. Another problem I have with these public employee pensions is that Social Security is going broke, and these guys don't contribute a dime to it, but yet we in the private sector are responsible for their retirement system, which is, as John mentioned previously, on average 3-5 times social security benefits for the average private sector retiree. This is crap and completely unfair! End of story. Period.

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    1. You don't understand. This is part of the process.

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