The February 4, 2014 morning session of the city council workshop was devoted to budget issues. Here is the link to the presentation slides used by city staff:
It was a long and complicated presentation. I am not reviewing all the minutiae of the meeting but rather let’s look at the “take-aways.”
- Take-Away #1: Council approved staff’s recommendation that the property tax rate float. The total property tax rate prior to the Great Recession was $1.5951 in Fiscal Year11-12. In Fiscal Year12-13 it was $1.9005. In Fiscal Year13-14 it is $2.2889. Solution #1 to raising more revenue increases the total property tax rate per $100 by $0.6938.
- Take-Away #2: Council approved making inter-fund interest rates variable based on what the city receives as a return on its investments. Council borrowed money from the landfill, water/sewer enterprise funds as well as the technology replacement fund and the vehicle replacement fund. By floating the interest rate to the rate the city makes on its investments saves the city a considerable amount of interest debt on those loans. The current interest rate is 3.62% at a cost of $1.6 million. With adoption of a variable rate the interest becomes 0.40% next year at an interest cost of $178,640. Solution #2 to raising more revenue makes the interest rate on internal loans variable.
- Take-Away #3: Council approved a series of 5 strategies to raise further revenue. They include transferring dollars out of the total arts fund balance of $1.066 million. Several years ago Council transferred a little over $2 million out of the arts fund. So it can be done. I don’t think anyone wants to see the arts fund be dissolved and it should retain a fund balance. Another revenue raiser is to audit companies that pay sales tax revenue to the city. Clearly Mayor Weiers (pro business) was uncomfortable with this concept. Staff contends that it will raise revenue for the city but could not project how much. Staff proposed that the amount the General Fund charges departments for support, i.e., legal, financial, human resources, be increased – modestly. Staff indicated that they are still working on a city asset list of properties for sale or lease back. Staff also proposed that the temporary sales tax become permanent, that the rate be increased and that the list of taxable items be increased. Solution #3 is to get blood out of a stone.
- Take-Away #4: These expenditure items are still in discussion and will be brought back to council but include restructuring of the city’s inter-fund loans (already done) and elimination of the sales tax paid by the city for water use on its own properties (already done). Still on the chopping block is the reduction/elimination of retiree health subsidies; alternative service delivery to citizens; and adjustment (downward) of the city’s contingency fund.
The reduction or elimination of retiree health subsides is truly unconscionable. Many retirees are on fixed, monthly incomes (Social Security) and can ill afford to see their health premiums go even higher. Perhaps if it were proposed as beginning on July 1, 2014 for new retirees who understand that they will not be subsidized and can prepare for it, it could work. Alternative Service Delivery (elimination or privatization of services) should not include the Enterprise Departments of water, sewer or sanitation. These funds are not part of the General Fund deficit for they are stand-alone and rely upon the rate payers to bear the costs of those services. A reduction of those services will have no impact on the General Fund.
The concept of the Contingency Fund is more complex. What staff proposes is to rearrange the deck chairs. Historically, in Glendale, the Contingency Fund was pegged at 10% and all or part of it could be used for unexpected expenses that arose during the course of the Fiscal Year. It remained and often grew from year to year. Staff is proposing that Contingency be set at 5% and still to be used for unanticipated expenses. It will become a renewable line item in the budget that can be made larger or smaller. Now there is introduction of a new concept, Ending Fund Balance (EDF). The EDF would be the city’s savings account for purposes of demonstrating to the bond rating agencies that Glendale has a reserve other than Contingency. Staff wants the EDF to be pegged at 25% of the General Fund Operating Budget. That is an awful lot of money to come up with instantly. Yet that is part of staff’s plan. They want Glendale, in its worst fiscal crisis ever, to turn around instantly and mimic the practices of a Triple A rated city. The idea is sound but the instant execution is not. It is warranted that it took Glendale several years to dig itself into a hole and it stands to reason that it will take several years to dig its way out. There’s an old proverb, “Rome was not built in a day.” Glendale’s financial mess will take more than a day to right itself.
© Joyce Clark, 2014
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