These are the comments that I delivered at the 2018-2019 Budget Hearing
Mayor Dallas and Members of the City Council:
I am Jeff Baron, and I would like to make three comments regarding the budget.
The first and most important one is that the 2018-2019 proposed budget spends $2.7 million more than the city receives. It is only “balanced” in a legal sense because the city draws down its general fund reserves, also known as its savings account.
Given the looming CalPERS payments, which increase to more than $2.3 million in just a few years, this is a poor path to travel. In response to various council members comments that “the residents demand a high level of services”, I’d say that this resident thinks that we would also like to live within our means, that we should be saving in good years, and spending in bad ones. This is a good year. So I would ask staff for an answer to a question that is still not in the staff report or the transmittal letter: what is staff’s opinion on the city spending down our savings account by $2.7 million?
The second is the police station: As I have said all along, I believe that the city should provide chief Tomasi with the $750,000 property room project that he himself has repeatedly said that he requires rather than the $2,500,000 that the council currently allocated. I also agree with council member Richards that if there are current safety issues, those should be addressed now as separate emergency items, not as part of next year’s budget.
Past the “I need it now property room,” the city should engage in a master planning exercise that considers all of the city’s police and other departmental requirements in coordination with all of the city’s physical plant. Many of the city’s buildings are in less than optimal condition, and I do not think that we should build a big addition onto an old building that is near the end of its useful life. To do so would be to “plan from the dais” with no community input. That is a bad practice.
Finally, the city attorney’s budget: As I have said previously, it is okay to make mistakes. I understand that the city council may have erred when they believed last year, when this attorney was hired, that this path would result in the city’s legal expenses going down rather than up. It does not matter whether the city attorney has a $700,000 budget now, or a $400,000 budget now with a $300,000 adjustment later. Money is money, and unlike the Uncle Sam, we cannot print our own. But I ask staff and the council: Where is this money going? To the fight against short term rentals? To an investigation into personal behavior? To the two assistant city attorneys that we’ve hired? We have all had first hand experience with attorneys’ bills, so we all know that attorneys can bill by project. What is our $700,000 being spent on?