Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The City Manager Provides More Information On The Library (and Debt)

Mod: If you are not emailing your questions to City Manager Gabe Engeland you really are missing out. Not only will you get a prompt reply, you will also receive a lot of interesting information. Along with a bunch of follow up questions. The guy is both a straight shooter and clearly dedicated to transparency. That is going to take some getting used to. Here is an example of what I mean.

Tattler: Here's a question I meant to ask earlier. Are any Utility Tax moneys being used to make CalPERS payments?

City Manager: The UUT is a general tax, it is used to fund General Fund activities. The General Fund includes CalPERS payments for any employees paid from the General Fund (mostly non-utility employees, including Public Safety, Public Works, Finance, Library, Community Services, etc).  It is fair to say the UUT funds a portion of everything budgeted in the General Fund, including CalPERS payments.

Mod: You might recall that when this question was asked during the run up to the April 2016 election, the answer from the city and the winning candidates wasn't quite that clear. I remember being told by the previous City Manager that it was not possible to track exactly how utility tax money is being spent, therefore we will never know. Very devious, that one. Prompted by yesterday's Tattler post, here is how the rest of this conversation went.

City Manager: When we talk about the future of the library building I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion the building will be demolished.  In fact, I would say preservation of the Library is a likely outcome.  I know people assume the future is condos or apartments, with a demolished library, and a new building on the site, but if I were a betting man—at this point—I would not bet on demolition.

When I was at the joint Library Board and Community Services Commission meeting I asked them to vote as if demolition of the building was the probable outcome.  I did this so they would understand the gravity of their vote, and all potential outcomes, not to imply that was the course which we would pursue. With that said, all outcomes for the Library building remain on the table.

Things change constantly and trying to predict a decision which is likely a few months away would be difficult on my part as we are still so early in the due diligence process.  At this point though, the only conversations we have had among staff internally are preserving the Library building and incentivizing rehabilitation.

The second point you discuss on the UUT is interesting to me. The idea the UUT would “save” the Library is something I had not heard before, at least not in the context you are writing about it. I wasn’t here for the discussion however, so my interpretation is 100% looking back on a historical event. I had always assumed the services the Library provides were the items the UUT would pay for (save), not the building where the services were held. I can actually see how someone’s view of this would be influenced by what side of the UUT discussion they were on.

A “NO” voter on the UUT probably sees a plan to move the Library (which will reduce future costs significantly, while also avoiding immediate costs) as a violation of what was promised in the UUT campaign.  A “YES” voter on the UUT probably sees the plan to move the Library as carrying through on the promise to not cut Library services—which is exactly what they were told by the UUT campaign.

A “YES” vote will save the Library! After reading your article I can see this from both viewpoints.

It seems to me the idea to preserve Library services, while simultaneously reducing operating costs and avoiding substantial one-time costs, would be welcomed by the public. Sierra Madre residents appear to want services retained without increasing taxes.  I’m not sure where else this makes as much sense as with the Library.  I understand people reflexively go to Police service, but the discussion there is on a reduction of costs and a reduction of service, which is a key difference, as the Library is a reduction of costs, but not a reduction of services.

I’m curious on your perspective around the Library.  Do you believe moving the Library is a violation of the UUT campaign?  Also, if moving the Library is able to reduce annual operation costs, and avoid large one-time costs, while keeping the level of service the same, why do you think people are opposed to it?  The sense I get is people fall into three categories:

1. Fine with the move, fine with whatever happens to the Library building.

2. Fine with the move, do not want the Library building demolished, but are okay with a sale.

3. Not fine with the move.

The vast majority of the conversations I have had are with people who fall into category 1 or 2.

I’m sure we each have our own echo chamber, but is this substantially different than what you are hearing? If the Library was moved, but the current building was preserved what would your viewpoint be?

If the community is against new taxes AND reduction of services AND changes to how services are provided we are in quite a pickle!

Thanks for continuing the discussion in the community, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Tattler: If the Library is in deteriorating condition, and cannot be repaired by the city because of the cost, who would then want to take on the big expense of both acquiring that property and also rehabilitating that sadly neglected building? What commercial benefit would they see? Property is gold in Sierra Madre, with the cost being about the same. Unless you know someone who is both exceptionally kind and wealthy, I cannot see that happening.

City Manager: I agree, property is gold in Sierra Madre.  The high cost should actually work to the City’s benefit in a seller’s market.  Keep in mind, we have not had an appraisal of either property completed yet, either as individual properties or together.  In addition to this, I have not talked with anyone or any business about potentially purchasing the building. With all of those caveats, there are a couple of scenarios I can see playing out, but for purposes of this discussion, I’ll focus on the scenarios which lead to the rehabilitation of the current building (all numbers are examples):

Scenario Number 1: The properties are valued at $3.0M together. Private market repairs are expected to be $1.0M.  The Council determines there is value to keeping the structure in the city and incentivizes repairs through the private market. At sale Council agrees to rebate $1.00 for every $1.00 spent on rehab to the new owner up to $1M.  The owner also has the option of selling the attached lot for a single family home (under this scenario the City would restrict the development of the second lot to single family only). The currently vacant lot should receive a good price at market. Now the owner has a building which is fully rehabbed and has a value of more than the $3M, but has spent significantly less through the sale of the second property and the rebating of rehabilitation costs. This is also before State and Federal grants or property tax rebates which the property may be eligible for as a rehabilitation.

Under this scenario the Council has found a way to incentivize the rehab of the Library building, while also moving to a new location which will reduce Library expenditures quite significantly, meaning taxpayers pay less for better service.

Scenario Number 2 would be: It is determined to be too costly to move the Library to the YAC with available funds, even though the sale of the Library property. Instead of selling the parcel the Library sits on, Council instead opts to sell only the lot behind the library. The sale from this lot is used to fund a large portion of the repairs at the current library. The library, because it is too small to host programs, moves these programs to other City locations, likely the Hart Park House, Sierra Madre room, etc. Under this scenario the City avoids large one-time costs and does not need to ask for a tax increase. This option does minimally reduce services as well as annual costs.

I’m sure there will be lots of community discussion on what is best, but at this point I don’t see why rehabbing the current Library building is not a viable alternative.

Tattler: I have no problem with the Library moving. It is a bold and creative move that the happy Library guy has come up with. My gripe is over how the UUT hike in 2016 was sold. Remember, we beat a UUT increase here twice, so the margin of that loss was sobering. The continued survival of the Library, along with the PD, was definitely part of the YES message. Measure UUT passed, and now the Library has been declared too costly to upgrade and in danger of being razed as part of a property sale. That is not going over well with some.

City Manager: I can’t speak much as to how the UUT conversation went, but I would hope it was focused on Library services. Without the UUT passing the Library services we currently offer would certainly be reduced with most eliminated completely. I can see your point of view however, and understand people may feel the UUT was supposed to pay for Library services as well as the building itself.

My bottom-line is we are bringing forward several options to reduce the cost of operations as opposed to asking for more money through taxes. We were very successful using this approach to balance this year’s budget. For me the Library discussion focuses on how to provide the best services we can at the lowest possible cost.

Tattler: One thing that I think needs to be done. A public conversation on the city's debt. It needs to be spelled out and defined. It is the publics' debt. They have to pay it, yet largely folks do not understand the situation. It needs to explained exactly how the city got to this point, and what needs to be done to deal with it. Many cities are dealing with problems just like Sierra Madre's.

City Manager: I agree on the debt. The long-term debt of the city hasn’t been managed very well.  We are currently set to bring our refinancing forward in September. At this meeting I intend to have a formal discussion about current debt and each repayment schedule. It fits in nicely with our discussion on infrastructure maintenance, replacement, and repair.

Mod: A lot to mull over. If I am reading this correctly, the good citizens of Sierra Madre could get their first good hard look at Sierra Madre's massive debt problem ever in September. Something most previous regimes refused to do. I can't imagine some people being very excited about that, though I certainly am. 

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

56 comments:

  1. I think we are going to like this new CM. What a great start with Mr. Engeland being open to all discussions. This guy just may save the city!

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    1. It will take a long time to restore trust in Sierra Madre Government.
      The honesty of the City Manager is but 1 item in a sordid pile .Most of the Council Members colluded with past dishonest and destructive City Managers.
      But Good luck Gabe and I applaud your honesty.Keep going. You may actually make Sierra Madre great again.Oops- there , I said it again.

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  2. Engeland needs to watch his back, though. The people responsible for Sierra Madre's crippling water bond and CalPERS debt have been trying to hide their responsibility for years. If it wasn't for their stupidity with the taxpayer's money the Library would have been properly maintained and none of this would be coming up now. The need to move the Library is because of what they did.

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    1. Hopefully he'll understand that if John Buchanan, Rob Stockley, Bart Doyle, Tonja Torres or Glenn Lambin offer him advice, that they are the one's who created the city financial mess he's now dealing with and having to fix.

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  3. Let's not forgot about what the location of the library and the building itself mean to a lot of people. When you go there enough, you acquire a sentimental attachment to where it is and how it looks. You walk in there and you see the same things you saw when you were a kid. In a time where everything is changing so fast there is something comforting in leaving some things the same. You take your kid to library and you can tell them that's where you used to sit when you fell in love with books. Let's not dismiss all that too fast.

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    1. How many millions is that memory worth to you?

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    2. How many people who live in Sierra Madre now, lived here as children. Maybe 2% if that. If it was a great building like the Main Library in Pasadena, I'd would fight to save it. It's just an run down building that was built 50 years ago. Remember the current library REPLACED another library. And you know what? No one died and the sun came up the next day. Get a grip people.

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    3. Does this mean you don't (Heart) the Library anymore?

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    4. That building is the Library, 8:37. Without it you'd have to house those services in a tent.

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    5. 8:39 Never had a soft spot for the library. It was never of any use for my children when they had reports to do.
      8:56 The books and services such as they are can be housed in any safe building.

      As far as location....give me a break. This silly city is at most only 2 miles wide. You can't live next door to everything.

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    6. It will be interesting to see the library Measure UUT was supposed to save being bulldozed.

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  4. Many of us who voted No on the UUT tax did so because of the misleading claims for the financial outcomes for city services. I spoke with one supporter after its passage and that person agreed with me that it would not in any way raise enough money to keep the city afloat as the Pro-10% UUT postcards claimed.

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    1. The Yes on Measure UUT campaign never made that claim. They said the city would have to make cutbacks in city services if the city didn't have the tax revenue to pay for them. Pretty simple and easy to understand for most people.

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    2. You're not telling the truth, 8:54. The YES people blabbered about the Library constantly. I can understand your being embarrassed. Have you tried therapy?

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  5. The Library being moved is a direct consequence of years of city hall mismanagement. Doyle, Stockley, the reprehensible Doug Hayes, these people are responsible. Sierra Madre deserves a full accounting of how things got this bad.

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    1. 7:22, I'm familiar with Doyle and Stockley but not Doug Hayes. I'm not looking to berate anyone, just seeking public facts. What did Doug Hayes do towards the mismanagement of the Library?

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    2. true, forgot about Doug. When I first met him I thought he really cared about the city and history then I came to the realization that he was another mini developer and had his own agenda.

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  6. Here is our chance neighbors. Now is the time for some good and helpful suggestions on keeping the Library and building and doing it for less.

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    1. Why is the library the Holy Grail?

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    2. It is not the Holy Grail. It is the mismanagement and years of it by our City! And yes that property would fund all of the current city management CalPERS. Don't trust one last bit of them. We are here to keep them honest and fess up the their politics.

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    3. when we had a librarian making over 100K a year for a tiny library and now we are stuck with librarian pensions, it's always been a burden. I would hate to see it go but I'm okay and can survive with Pasadena libraries. Or why can't we approach Pasadena and find out what it would cost or is it feasible to annex our library into their system?

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  7. The Yes on Measure UUT campaign mail said the tax would "help fund" and "help provide" services. I saved all the literature and looked at it yesterday. The campaign mail never once said it would "save" the library building or anything else. In fact the word "save" appears no where on the campaign mail.

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    1. When the going gets tough, the tough start parsing. I doubt many would agree that tearing down the Library and "Saving the Library" are the same thing. To suggest that is to risk looking ridiculous.

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    2. 7:39 - will you be making "interest only payments" on that opinion?

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    3. This blog is falsely claiming that the UUT campaign said it would save the library building and then calling that campaign untruthdil for saying something it never said. .

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    4. I am sure that everyone understood that when the Yes On UUT people said higher taxes would save the Library, they meant bulldozing it.

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    5. 8:09 - you people lied.

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    6. “When you aren't drinking or using drugs or spending lots of money on fancy toys or basking in the glow of fame or working all the time or eating your way through the refrigerator, being hateful and angry is a very handy shield from the truth. It lets you focus on everyone else's shortcomings, and all the ways they have let you down. You can bemoan how all these broken people keep finding you somehow. That way you don't have to focus on what really matters -- the tough work of fixing what is broken inside you.”
      ― Glenn Beck

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    7. I don't recall having eaten the Library.

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    8. Glenn Beck’s Regrets
      His paranoid style paved the road for Trumpism. Now he fears what’s been unleashed.
      https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/01/glenn-becks-regrets/508763/

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    9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    10. We are having a Glen Beck thread REALLY??

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    11. Sorry, 8:32. This isn't Facebook.

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  8. Is there a service the Library can perform that brings in $ ?

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    1. The Friends of the Library give a lot of money to the library for special programs. I say cut the special programs and use that money for repairs. OR The Friends of the Library could charge for the special programs and give that money to the Library for repairs. Let parents and teachers read to their own kids and classes.

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    2. The so-called "Friends of the Library" for years supported politicians who deferred maintenance on the Library in favor of pet projects that went nowhere. Now that property is being sold and the Library is being torn down. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

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  9. 7:22am. Thank you, someone else that recalls how "battles" were fought at City Hall, a few other players are missing, but enough history to not repeat the past; or so we hope.
    I like door number two scenario.
    Having services provided from various locations had been suggested over the past years, only deaf ears and blank starring were responces received.
    Information on the UUT and the supports it would provid were given, one mention and only one time, for what the UUT would not provide. The mailers had very tiny print for what was not going to be provided and the initial City Council discussion, only once, on what would not be provided with UUT monies.
    Sierra Madreans need to remain involved with City Hall, not just relying on what your neighbor or what your pals at the Civic Clubs might say.
    This town now has a manager that is open to listening with out a pre conceived idea and at this time appears to be an independent thinker, separate from council.
    Also, a clear delivery of an issue along with options and choices.
    Refreshing - Thank You.

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  10. Our new city manager is wrong about the police. If we had switched to the sheriff we would have received the same services at a lower cost. Don't be fooled by what he saying.

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    1. I don't think the CM was making a value judgment about the quality of our PD, or whether we could get the same or better deal. It was just an example to illustrate different ways to categorize city services, i.e., you pull money from the PD, that service gets reduced (or replaced altogether). Whereas there may be a way to reduce library funding without reducing the service.

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    2. 10:50 - The commenter you responded to was talking about cost only. And remember, April of 2016 was a time when the city was still reacting to the desertion of about 50% of the SMPD.

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  11. 8:48am. You have your take on the Sheriff's serving this town along with the percentage of CalPERS this city would be responcible for and I have mine.
    I support this PD and the reorganization that it is undergoing along with the changes in CalPERS and new hires.
    The Fire Department needs all of our attention now.
    Sadly, volunteers in this area have become part of this cities history. Our Fire Department along with the Paramedic's program need to be addressed now.

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    1. What changes in CalPERS?

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    2. What's wrong with the fire department?

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    3. It will be the service that the usual suspects will claim needs saving during the next tax hike process. Just like the Library in 2016.

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  12. Very telling that the most recent former CM said that there was just no way to determine how UUT monies were spent. It always seemed that she was in way over her head (i.e. incompetent), but that pretty much nails it. Until she came along, Sierra Madre got along pretty well. All she knew how to do was kowtow to the employee unions...at incredible expense to us all.

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    1. Things went south way before Aguilar. She just kept them going in that direction.

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  13. All this is great but we are paying for past city leaders sins. And most citizens currently have no trust in the City Council or the Planning Commission. Move the Library to the Rec Center? No planning has been involved in this except an idea. Where are the patrons of the Library going to park when there is a game at Heasley field? You can kiss good bye a large part of the grassy area for that! And let us not forget the disgusting mismanagement of our city pool!!! So yes saving the library at the current location is on the top of most peoples list. And yes we need better voices on the City Council not just the City Manager. Riding in the 4th of July Parade does not mean you have done your job!

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    1. We have the best Planning Commission there has ever been be grateful for their hard work and dedication

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  14. It appears that both a political & financial tornado has struck the city of Sierra Madre once again. Time to call Dorothy & Toto to come help sort this out?

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  15. Sierra Madre is a 3 square mile community elongated along Sierra Madre Blvd for most of its identity with cherished views of the hillsides preserved as open space. The swimming pool in Sierra Vista Park and that park expansion was possible on the far eastern side of town as the land there was available. The current city hall is, as was the one it replaced, centrally located next to an old wine vineyard to the west of the Hart House (now the Senior Center). The library is close in location to the original one and has a sense of balance in all this. I can't see any good in changing this easy flow across our small community. I would suggest that the best approach would be to improve the ADA status of the library where it currently sits: sell off the lot in the back and expand the buliding to the front center to gain some valuable square footage between the stately oak trees out front. Let the library be a library. It does not have to be a meeting hall. Hold community programs in the recreational center, the City Council Chambers or the Hart House. Spread the parking crush out across town. Do not add to the congestion of Sierra Vista Park by putting the library there.

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    1. 3:01 - Very well put! I could not agree with you more, especially the congestion to Sierra Vista Park (a library next to a baseball field?) and the fact that the library is not a meeting hall.

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    2. Just imagine how well the little baseball players would do in school if they studied as much as they spend time practicing. Perhaps a library by the field is a good idea. Our library is used by the private high school kids as a place to wait for their parents to come and get them.

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  16. The "Evil One" is still working hard at treason.
    Trump, Putin had second, undisclosed talk at G-20.

    http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/342589-ian-bremmer-trump-and-putin-held-second-informal-meeting-during-g-20

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  17. The President is a real piece of ship ,I mean work.

    "Let’s be plain about what Trump and his willing partners on Capitol Hill are threatening.
    The president of the United States and members of the party that controls Congress are saying that they see problems in the health care system, and their plan is to stand by and do nothing while people suffer.
    This is breathtakingly cynical, and reveals the Republican Party’s priorities. Getting rid of the dreaded Obamacare at any cost is more important to Trump and his party than acting to improve the health care system for the people they represent".

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  18. 3:01pm. Interesting idea. I thought there were no options beyond throwing money at a worn down, but community loved Library.
    Option two example also works.
    I recall the old Fire Department with the brass exit pole from second floor to first, combination City Hall with the one cell jail located on Sierra Madre Blvd.; the cell is still in use as a Bed and Breakfast.
    It was also just a few doors down from the Pool Hall, where you would have a short escort with the PD for an over night stay.

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  19. Keep the Library. Get back to basics. Read books

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