“We have been affected by the economic slowdown like everybody else,” city Finance Director Paul Abelson told the council at a special meeting on Jan. 20. “In the current year we are seeing a reduction in assessed values, which affects property taxes. We are continuing to see a slowdown in sales taxes like everybody else. Development fees, planning activities and (building) applications have declined significantly.”
Abelson displayed a graph showing that revenues to the city’s General Fund that peaked at nearly $16 million in the 2006-07 budget year have been declining ever since and are estimated to be less than $13 million in the 2009-10 budget year, which begins in July.
At the same time, city expenditures have remained fairly steady in the mid-$13 million range since 2005-06. As a result, the city budget is projected to be in a spending deficit in the current budget year and next, totaling to about $700,000, unless cuts are made or the city’s reserve fund is drawn down.
Drawing down that fund is a definite option because currently the reserve is a healthy $3.8 million, which is more than 29 percent of the General Fund budget. City policy specifies a reserve fund of at least 20 percent.
But before dipping into that reserve, the council members said they first want to look at reducing the budget.
City Manager Bryan Montgomery has notified city employees that beginning in March, they will be required to take one unpaid day off each month, representing a 4.5-percent decrease in employee salaries. In addition, City Hall is planned to be closed for the last two weeks of the year, vacant positions may not be filled and the council is postponing its scheduled pay increase.
The council is also planning to eliminate the Planning Commission by taking on the commission’s duties, saving about $20,000; cutting back the monthly anniversary celebrations and concerts that had been planned, saving $45,000 to $60,000; cutting back the $22,500 that the city gives to community organizations; and resigning from membership in the Association of Bay Area Governments, saving $6,000.
In the past, the donations to community organizations have included funding for small-business training at City Hall, the Loaves and Fishes program, the Homeless Animals Lifeline Organization, advertising East County’s agricultural resources, the Almond Festival, the Halloween program at the Redmen/Pocahontas Hall, the Delta Science Center and bass fishing tournaments.
Some council members said they plan to cut the donations by 40 percent, and indicated they would give a higher priority to an organization like Loaves and Fishes, which feeds the hungry, as well as to the fishing tournaments, which bring in business for local restaurants and Comfort Suites.
The plan to hold monthly events celebrating Oakley’s 10th anniversary as a city, including the monthly summer concert series, has been scaled back to just four events and without the concerts by the rock and country tribute bands that have performed in the past.
July’s Cityhood Celebration will still feature the fireworks display, but the entertainment might be more on the order of three-legged races and balloon tossing. In October there will be a Harvest Festival, in December a tree-lighting at City Hall and in May of 2010 a Passport to Parks and Science Week. Any music at those events would be provided by local or school bands.
The decision to eliminate the Planning Commission for the next year or two is made easier by the fact that there is not much new development planned in Oakley in that time frame for the commission to review.
Instead, the commission would be dealing with matters that would have come before the council for approval in any case, such as updating the city’s housing plan, the downtown plan, the sign ordinance and the environmental report for the East Cypress Corridor.
With two planning commissioners in the audience, council members were apologetic as they discussed eliminating their service to the city, but in unanimous agreement that the city needs to save money where it can.
“I served on the first Planning Commission for four years – what an incredibly important role they play in this whole process,” said Councilman Kevin Romick. “It’s always good to have a multitude of ideas and thoughts. However, when things get lean and as tough as I think they are going to get – because I don’t think we’ve hit bottom yet as far as the economy – we have to look where we can to save money.
“It’s important that we tighten the belt as tight as we can and move forward and hope the times get better, but prepare for the worst in the process. We’ve done without a Planning Commission for a time in the past; we can do it once again. I do it with a great deal of concern, because I realize the important role they play in this process.”
The council is expected to take action on some of the cuts in February.