Last night the Council had a rather long meeting (ended around 11:30pm) where several significant items were discussed.
- On the consent calendar was a a service agreement with Contra Costa County Animal Services Department for animal control services. The agreement was for an initial 2 year term with auto renewal terms built in unless cancelled. The discussion centered around the cost of services, and the level of services provided. The agreement represented multiple 15% year over year increases and in a time of a constrained budget we discussed alternatives and gained an understanding of the services provided.
As animal services as provided by the County are required, if we were to forego contracting with the County we would be responsible for providing these services ourselves. Antioch is the only city in Contra Costa County that chooses to do this and their internal cost is substantially higher than what is being offered by the County. So while services offered have been reduced and the cost is significant, it seemed like our best option to meet this requirement.
- We discussed a conceptual framework for allocation of ARPA funds. With the rules surrounding uses of ARPA funds, they are equivalent to general fund reserve dollars. I emphasized the importance of using reserves for one time costs rather than for ongoing operational needs. Without a source of revenue to replenish reserves, spending down reserves on ongoing operations is not sustainable and poor public policy.
We discussed at length the need to overcome certain technical debt that has built up over time. These things include digitization of records which would enable overall more efficient work, reviewing and enhancing cyber security which has become more complex and costly over time, and a limited duration employee to shore up and stabilize certain financial processes. In our first tranche of funding the city prioritized direct community support and I am hoping we can continue to do so through the Clayton Cares grant program. We also considered the value of an overall organizational audit to determine what our needs were vs. our capacity, and our organizational structure. All of these things are one time in nature and seem appropriate for reserve spending.
Other items, such as maintenance of City Hall and the Library, and general budget stabilization for shortfalls in things like the streetlight special assessment district and other ongoing operational activity are not one time in nature. I expressed opposition to this type of spending though this view was not shared by the other Councilmembers.
- We then moved on to discuss the latest proposal for the FY23 (ending June 30, 2023) budget. The budget draft reflected a general fund deficit of approximately $107K. The neighborhood streetlights special assessment district budget reflected a deficit of approximately $20K and unless we turned off the lights in certain areas, this would be made up from the general fund - meaning the actual deficit was approximately $127K.
While several items were identified as potential ways to cut costs and actually balance the budget, ultimately the other Councilmembers did not support any cuts and instead gave direction to staff to rely on reserve spending to not only make up any deficits, but to also fund other wish list items. Given the challenging fiscal situation the city is in, and the forecast that this will continue for as many years as can be projected out, I thought it was irresponsible to spend down reserves while not making a single cut in spending.
This was a missed opportunity to start down the path of fiscal sustainability. We could have made cuts this round that would not have impacted city services (eliminate stipends to Councilmembers, defer acquisition of a police vehicle) that would have balanced the budget but instead the Council kicked the can down the road again. This Council is making a bet that voters will eventually accept a tax increase forcing every resident to tighten their belt, while not taking any action to tighten the city's belt. I find that to be an unsupportable position and would be opposed to any additional tax if the city does not take serious action to cut spending first.
- The Master Fee schedule was tabled until our next regularly scheduled meeting due to the meeting running late.
We also had a meeting of the Oakhurst Geological Hazard Abatement District (GHAD) where I again, for approximately 3 years running, requested that the City create a schedule of work, completion dates, and specify areas of responsibility of the district. By doing this, we add to transparency so residents can know what to expect, and we enable accountability to ensure what needs to be done actually gets done. I made this same request for the landscaping services as well. Without a schedule of work, there is no way to assess if what should be done is actually getting done.