June 1, 2009

San Leandro City Council Adopts $134.6 Million Budget

On a vote of 4 to 2, the San Leandro City Council adopted a $134.6 million budget for 2009-2010 on June 1, 2009. Councilmembers Joyce Starosciak and Diana Souza voted against adoption of the budget. Ursula Reed was absent. The budget includes $78.2 million in the General Fund, $15.1 million for the Redevelopment Agency, $12.8 million for water pollution control, environmental services, shoreline fund, and storm water fund, and $28.5 million for other activities.

Starosciak criticized the Finance Committee (Jim Prola, Tony Santos, and Michael Gregory) for saving services (the branch libraries and Farrelly Pool) instead of communicating the City's "desperate situation." Starosciak also objected to the use of "$250,000 insurance reserves to save" these services. The budget transfers a total of $1.4 million from the Self Insurance Fund, but Starosciak didn't object to the other $1.15 million transferred from that fund. Starosciak's comments are reprinted after the break.

The vote against the budget by Starosciak and Souza came as a surprise to Mayor Santos and the other members of the City Council. Santos noted that the budget had been discussed during the preceding eight months and these issues had been referred to the Finance Committee as appropriate.

Starosciak's vote and her comments are viewed by some insiders as the opening salvo in a possible run to unseat Santos as Mayor of San Leandro. Former School Board member Stephen Cassidy and former Mayor Shelia Young have also been mentioned as possible Mayoral candidates. When asked about whether they planned to run, Young and Cassidy said that they hadn't decided and Starosciak hadn't responded at the time of this article.

In other actions, the City Council nominated Thomas Makin as the District 2 member of the Board of Zoning Adjustments Makin served on the Recreation and Parks Commission for six years and will replace Melody Marr. Makin is the Deputy Director of Operations for the Housing Authority of Alameda County. Marr is the CEO of the Alameda Chamber of Commerce.

Lee Thomas was nominated as the District 3 member of the Human Services Commission. Thomas also serves on the Shoreline-Marina Committee and replaces Robert Vergara, who had served for a year and a half.

Lawrence Smith was nominated as the District 3 member of the Library-Historical Commission. Smith replaces Renee Souza, who was appointed in March 2007.

The complete text of Starosciak's comments from the June 1, 2009, San Leandro City Council meeting:

I’d like to thank the City Manager and Staff for their very hard work on the budget this year. The City Manager and Finance Director informed the Council early on that cuts in staffing would be required to balance our budget for the coming year. The communication with the City Employees has been excellent. The City Manager’s goal of a 5% reduction in public safety and a 15% reduction in all other departments was a well-chosen, measured and equitable strategy. It balanced our priorities, with a need to trim in all departments.

I also want to thank the Department Heads for their special efforts this year to maintain a hiring freeze, and in general to keep budgets tight which led to $300,000 in savings for our reserves this next fiscal year.

As hard as the Staff has worked this year, I am voting “No” on the recommendation from the Finance Committee for the 2009-10 budget. This budget started out equitable and realistic, it has become political and unrealistic.

The 15% reductions in all departments but public safety was agreed to be equitable and the Council was fully supportive. However, the community did not fully understand this and so when their local services were announced to be cut, they challenged the Council to return their favorite service.

Instead of communicating our desperate situation, the Finance Committee looked for ways to save the services that had the loudest clamoring.

The suspension of the Mulford Marina Branch and the South Branch libraries generated a great deal of fervor. Rightfully so, as many people enjoy all of our branch libraries. However, to keep them open, even at reduced hours, we are required to change our 15% strategy of reductions to a 10% policy for Libraries only and utilize almost a quarter of a million dollars of our insurance reserves.

This has become a political decision and it is inequitable to all other departments.

It was only 3 years ago that the Manor Branch library suspended its service for over 18 months to be rebuilt. During that time all of District 4 had to utilize other locations for library services. Then, as now, the suspension of the branch library service was for a better future in San Leandro. We knew that, and survived without our local library and felt fortunate to have long hours of operation at alternative locations in San Leandro. This year, we should have better communicated to our constituents that the suspension of the branch libraries means longer hours of operations and maintenance of the alternative locations. In the future, under this proposed budget, we are destined for drastic reductions in library and other operations.

Then, the suspension of Farrelly pool services brought out a literal flood of protests. Farrelly is well used by the neighboring families and it is right that they work to keep their pool open.

Still, in 2005, the Washington Manor Pool was closed for over a year and a half, which meant a season and a half of swimming was completely suspended. And even beyond that, when it reopened, Washington Manor was without its diving depth pool. To this day, all parents on the west side of town must take their children across town for advanced swimming lessons and teenagers can no longer walk and must be driven across town to enjoy swimming at their level. District 4 has not complained because they knew in 2005 that eventually they would be given all of the services that have been enjoyed by the rest of the City in both shallow and diving depth pools.

Washington Manor suffered a year and a half of concurrent library and swimming services suspended. To this day, we still don’t have a diving depth pool. Yet we knew it was for a better San Leandro future.

That is the same as we are asking our citizens today. The suspension of the Mulford/Marina branch and South branch services and the suspension of Farrelly pool services are for the betterment of the City’s future. By suspending those services, we are maintaining services for long hours in other parts of town. And with this inconvenience, our plan is to have enough revenue to re-open those facilities in future years. We should be communicating that message, not giving in to the clamoring.

There were also community protests over the Community Assistance Grants and the Children’s History Museum program – one which has been recommended for funding, and one which has not.

This shows how political the budget has become.

Our budget has also become unrealistic because of the growing number of optimistic projections that have received our quiet consent. We are budgeting based upon a number of assumptions that have us collectively crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. Some of the assumptions are:

  • 6 police officers will be fully funded by the Federal Recovery Act

  • Business license fees, property taxes and sales tax revenue will increase in a year of continued recession

  • The State will not carry out their plan to borrow $1.8M to balance California’s budget

These are not conservative projections, but have been defined as optimistic projections. When these assumptions fail, it will mean an additional shortfall of Millions of dollars further diving into our emergency reserves.

For all of these reasons, I am not in favor of using our $250,000 insurance reserves to save any programs this year.

However, in a spirit of consensus, at our last meeting Councilmember Souza, in an effort to balance community needs, suggested, and I supported, a Finance Committee consideration of using the insurance savings that supported the branch libraries to help fund the Farrelly pool services.

Instead, the Finance Committee took a different tact, proposing to double the pool entrance fees and potentially reduce hours at all our other pools. This means we plan to serve the same number of swimmers at twice the cost at up to half the hours. This does not make sense to me.

So I plan to make a motion for the Finance Committee to reconsider redistributing the $250k insurance reserves between library and recreation services to:

1. Provide some hours of operation at Farrelly without raising prices or reducing hours at the San Leandro Family Aquatics Center.
2. Maintain the Children’s History Museum program with a school fee to recover 50% of the costs.

And also the Council should communicate to the Community Assistance Grant applicants that funding this year will be whole, but in future years their General Fund support will likely be devoted to core services like Public Safety.

A balanced budget in this economy requires a firm stand and an effort to communicate our dire situation to our citizens. Although it feels difficult, this budget has been relatively easy due to the use of 3 million dollars in reserves. Next year, with no remaining reserve, it will be much, much worse, and we must start communicating that message. I plan to work with the community to do all we can to weather the coming 2010-11 budget storm.

Posted by Mike Katz-Lacabe at June 1, 2009 10:47 PM | TrackBack

closing a pool and library so that a new and larger one can be built is vastly different than closing Farrelly Pool which would be unlikely to ever open again.

Posted by: Tim Holmes at June 3, 2009 12:02 PM
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