Tonight we discussed a few significant items:
- We interviewed four candidates for three open positions for the Planning Commission. After discussion, the Council unanimously nominated three candidates - two who had previous Planning Commission experience either here in Clayton or in other CA cities, and one for whom this is their third application. I want to thank the outgoing Planning Commissioners and wish the new Planning Commissioners, Richard Enea, Maria Shulman, and Daniel Richardson the best of luck.
- We discussed the latest budget proposal which offers no cuts and uses reserve fund dollars to cover operational expenses. I reiterated my view that taking this action is unsustainable and irresponsible especially given that we can make small cuts to have a balanced budget. The money that the city received goes into our reserves and while other members of the Council want to characterize these dollars as separate from our reserves, the fact is that the restrictions over use of these funds are the same as for our reserves. Money is fungible and trying to distinguish ARPA money from our reserves is a fool's errand.
While the cuts I suggested were relatively minor (cut City Council stipends, defer contributions to vehicle replacement scheduled for next year, etc.), they would be sufficient to balance the budget, and simultaneously not impact any city operations in the current year. There were zero other suggestions or ideas from my fellow Councilmembers regarding any potential cuts. So while lip service may be paid to the idea of not kicking the can down the road, or the desire to make more meaningful cuts, the dearth of ideas or suggestions belies that desire.
What using reserve funds and engaging in deficit spending means is that the city is betting that the people of Clayton will vote to increase their own taxes when the city itself is unwilling to make any cuts. They are gambling that in 2024, the residents of Clayton will acquiesce and agree to tighten their belt and pay more in taxes. In the interim, the City will go further into structural deficits but until they take real action to make cuts, I would encourage everyone to reject any increase in taxes without meaningful and substantial cuts first. This will be challenging for the city, but raising taxes should be a last resort. Unfortunately this Council has treated it like it's the only option.
The budget that started to spend down our reserves passed 4-1 with only myself voting no.
- We discussed updating the master fee schedule for the city. This schedule includes user-benefit, regulatory, and rental fees. Fins and penalties are meant in part to be a deterrent and are considered separately. The city hasn't updated or examined its fee structure in some time, and the city does plan to do so during FY23. Instead, staff proposed a CPI based increase to the fees to capture both the current year CPI, as well as the prior year CPI that wasn't incorporated due to staff shortages. The total increase in fees was 8.8% which was approved unanimously.
- We then discussed the proposed salary schedule for staff during FY23. Having an approved salary schedule is a requirement of CalPERS. What was proposed was reflected in the budget that was approved in the prior item. While I opposed the overall budget, staff compensation, especially given the demands on our staff and inflationary environment, this is an area that we should not skimp on. The Council voted unanimously to approve the updated salary schedule.