As promised here is the rest of the story on the city council workshops held on March 18, 2014. The morning session was devoted to money – the budget, the medical benefits plan and an increase in fire staffing.

The General Fund budget discussion yielded some important gems of information. Staff, for the first time ever, used zero-based budgeting. It is a methodology for which I advocated for years. It’s about time.  There will be $15.5 million in expenditure reductions and revenue enhancements. Most of the reductions are of the smoke and mirror variety and reflect internal movement of monies. The only exception is that all departments will make cuts totaling $4.75 million. The lion’s share of those departmental cuts is the result of eliminating unfilled, vacant positions. This is a strategy that has been used before reluctantly.

When council got to departmental budget cuts Councilmembers Martinez and Knaack again asked the rest of council to return a portion of their council budgets to the General Fund as a signal that they were willing to absorb some of the same pain other departments were enduring. Vice Mayor Knaack again expressed her concern and displeasure about Councilmembers Alvarez’ and Hugh’s practice of giving the lion’s share of their council budgets to non-profits. Once again, Alvarez dug in her tiny toes and said she would give up nothing.

The big budget take away is this: Glendale residents will experience a 2% increase in their property tax rates and the temporary sales tax increase will now become permanent. For one reason only. As Tom Duensing, Executive Director of Finance said, “The level of contractual obligations ( Arena and Camelback Ranch Ballpark) is unique to Glendale.” If not for these two major debt burdens, “Glendale’s financial picture would look very different.” He went on to say according to the major rating agencies a city’s debt burden should be under 10% and most are in the 8% range. Glendale’s debt service burden is in the 25% to 28% range. Translating it means that the reason your taxes are increasing or in the case of the temporary sales tax increase remaining, is because of the debt created by Arena and Camelback Ranch Ballpark. That has been the elephant in the room that no one wanted to acknowledge. Glendale staff finally has done so. When will your councilmembers finally admit that these two city-owned properties are the reason?

How did the council fall on this issue? Councilmembers Martinez, Knaack, Chavira and Sherwood (a majority) gave approval and direction to remove the sunset provision from the temporary sales tax increase thereby making it permanent and to increase Glendale’s portion of your property taxes by 2%. Councilmembers Alvarez and Hugh wanted the sales tax issue to go before Glendale voters and silently gave approval to the property tax increase. Mayor Weiers wanted an additional week to confer with major stakeholders in Glendale. He didn’t get it but we can presume that he supports the majority council action taken. The next budget workshops are scheduled for April 8 and April 10, 2014.

One perplexing comment made by Mr. Duensing was that WITHOUT the temporary sales tax increase the ending fund balance is ONLY a positive 10% in 2017. If this is correct, One would think a positive fund balance of 10% seems to negate the need to make the temporary sales tax permanent.

Another issue taken up was the medical benefits plan. Retirees can expect another substantial increase to their monthly medical insurance payments while current employees will see no increase. Jim Brown, Executive Director of Human Resources (weren’t they getting rid of “Executive Director” titles??), said there would be no increase to current employees but retirees are an unfunded liability causing the increase in their premiums.

The last issue was an increase in fire staffing of 15 fire fighters as a result of a SAFER grant. As with a COPS grant there is a sliding scale and the SAFER grant will cover the first two years of fire fighter salaries. After that, the city will absorb the costs. Chief Burdick said that with the addition of 15 fire fighter positions there should be a savings of an estimated $400,000 in overtime pay. Let’s hold him to his word.

Lesson learned is that taxes are remaining or increasing because of the debt burden created by the city-owned Arena and Camelback Ranch Ballpark. Are they worth it to Glendale residents?

© Joyce Clark, 2014


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