In a report entitled “Brentwood – a city addressing reality,” issued last week, the grand jury looked the financial difficulties facing all 19 of the county’s cities. All had taken steps to deal with the crisis, the report said, but it singled out four programs in Brentwood as worthy of emulation.
Fiscal management and planning
Brentwood’s use of a 10-year fiscal planning model allows officials to plug in various “what if” scenarios that help forecast the impact down the road of decisions made now. The city has also maintained 30 percent of its annual budget in reserve, the report said, as well as Emergency Preparedness and Budget Stabilization funds to help weather the storm.
Addressing revenue and expense imbalance
Once the state’s fourth-fastest-growing city, Brentwood in 2005 implemented a plan to reduce its reliance on developer fees over the next decade. As the recession worsened, the plan was accelerated to three years, one result being the 84-percent reduction in the number of employees involved in its capital improvement program – from 17 to three.
A fee deferral program to encourage continued residential and commercial development, staff reductions in all departments except Code Enforcement and the police department, and continuing cost-effective maintenance on vehicles, equipment and computers were also noted in the report.
The enacment in 2008 of Brentwood’s Police Benchmark Reporting system, which charts the PD’s performance in key areas such as response times and workload, has helped the force address areas of possible concern proactively, the report said. The system last year helped improve performance to levels above the national average in four areas: arson, burglary, theft and auto theft, partly through directed-enforcement efforts and community-awareness campaigns.
Personnel costs/pension reform
Costs associated with pensions, retiree medical coverage and other post-employment benefits (OPEB), a challenge for virtually all governmental agencies, have been addressed through a combination of cost-of-living concessions by employees groups and the establishment of a two-tier retirement benefit program. This enabled employees hired after September of 2010 to be provided a reduced retirement package while current employees’ benefits remain unchanged.
The city has also initiated a funding mechanism that will pre-pay 85 percent of its OPEB obligations within the next 10 years, and has paid off obligations that arose when changes were made to the California Public Employees Retirement System. By using money from its Emergency Fund instead of making payments, the city will save $7 million in interest that would have been required to amortize the debt for eight years.
The report concludes that Brentwood should make its planning tools available to other cities, as well as expand its own use of benchmark reporting similar to its PD. It should also continue to reduce the impact of pensions on the city’s balance sheet to avoid future problems.
“We’re very pleased that the grand jury has recognized the tremendous efforts that City Council and staff have made to insure Brentwood’s fiscal stability,” City Manager Donna Landeros said. “Praise from grand juries is rare, so that makes this report extremely gratifying.”