With one turbulent year behind it and an uncertain one stretching out ahead, the City of Brentwood is pinching pennies, cutting back and keeping an eye on the long run.
That's the word from City Manager Donna Landeros, who this week provided an overview of what to expect in 2009.
If at the end of 2009 we can see a light at the end of the tunnel, I think we'll feel a little better, she said. But nobody's seeing the light yet.
Last year, in response to the economic downturn that has since grown to global proportions, the city laid off 11 employees, the first layoffs in the city's history. The layoffs were accompanied by a hiring freeze in all departments except the police part of a belt-tightening effort that amounted to more than $9 million in cuts.
But bad news kept coming. Revenue from property taxes, construction fees, sales taxes and vehicle license fees has continued to fall. And while the state has yet to repeat a history of balancing its own budget by taking money from cities, Landeros said the city is expecting the worst, and planning to cut up to $2 million more in the next fiscal year (ending June, 2010).
As of now, though, things are under control, Landeros said. Midyear adjustments going before the City Council next week will keep the budget balanced, and healthy reserves of 31 percent have not been touched. The adjustments being recommended to the Council include:
Salary and benefit reductions totaling $1 million. These will be achieved by keeping the current hiring freeze in place, with the exception of police and critical positions that, as attrition occurs, would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Supply and capital expense reductions of $995,000. Using the motto Every Little Bit Helps, city employees have helped identify savings in items such as copier and other office expenses. Travel and training costs will also be limited to personnel in positions in which certifications or licensing are required.
Internal services reduction of $406,000. This reflects a reduction in service personnel and equipment (including vehicles and computers, for example) required by departments in which staffing or workload has been reduced.
Included in the personnel savings are costs associated with the Police Activities League. According to the staff report prepared for next week's council meeting, PAL contributions that help offset city costs associated with the After the Bell after-school program have been dropping in recent years, and it's expected there will be no funds at all available from PAL this year. As a result, staff is recommending that the city discontinue funding for the program effective Feb. 1, but continue to support activities PAL can pay for through its fundraisers.
Altogether, the midyear adjustments amount to $2.6 million, a 4.6-percent reduction in the General Fund operating budget of $36.5 million.
But while preparing for tougher times ahead, the city is also positioning itself to take advantage of opportunities that, ironically, could arise as a result of economic circumstances. Included are three major projects: the downtown Civic Center, a new community college, and completion of the Highway 4 Bypass.
Preparation of construction documents are 98 percent complete for the $75 million Civic Center project, Landeros said, and a financing plan is also coming together. A decision last year to put off for three to five years the building of a parking structure that's part of the project's master plan eased some of the fiscal pressure, she said, and the City Council could be ready in March to make a decision on whether or not to go to bid on the City Hall, community center, library and City Park portions of the plan.
While still unwilling to make a financial commitment the city might not be able to keep, the council is also aware that the bond market and lower construction costs available now could save a lot of money in the long run.
We had to ask the question, Will this happen some day?' Landeros said.
If the answer is yes, then it becomes a question of when it should it happen, something largely dictated by construction and financing costs. There will have to be a confidence (on the part of the council) that the city can afford it, she said. Adopting a worst-case scenario posture with regard to the city's next operations budget is an example of the cautious approach the council is using, and contingency plans for unanticipated developments will also play a role in a go or no-go decision.
Also factored into the decision will be the public attitude about the advantages and risks associated with the question of when to build. She believes the council is well plugged in to public sentiment. One of the advantages we have right now is that we have a very stable council, she said. They pay attention to what they hear, and they're out there listening to people. They have a good sense of what people want.
Another ironic upside to the current situation involves a plan to locate a new Los Medanos College campus in the city. There were 10 property owners who expressed interest in the project, with parcels located from The Vineyards on the south to Empire Road across from JC Penny on the north. A council subcommittee was formed last year to flesh out the prospects, and since LMC has set aside $15 million for the project, it could move forward despite the current economy.
Also a potential boon to the city might be the completion of the Highway 4 Bypass. A final layer of rubberized asphalt is needed on Segment Three (south of Balfour Road), and Segment Two (Lone Tree to Balfour) still needs to be widened to two lanes in each direction.
An interchange is also planned for Sand Creek Road, and all of those projects could be included in the economic stimulus package Barack Obama is expected to implement when he takes office. The Bypass project enjoys an advantage when it comes to getting on the funded list, Landeros said: it's already designed and ready to go.