The (Emeryville) Ship’s Afloat

May 13, 2013
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I’ve been studying the city of Emeryville’s Comprehensive Annual Report covering the year ending June 30, 2012.  Not an easy read at 206 pages, but it gives a useful picture of how we are doing as a financial entity.  My general impression is that the ship is afloat and riding fairly high in the water, at least for now.  Quarterly reports since that June, 2012 date confirm that impression.  Here are some things that caught my eye: Sales tax revenues are up 2.5% from June, 2011 and transient occupancy taxes are up 18%.  Other revenue sources remain stable.  These are not bad signs given the lingering effects of the Great Recession.  Property tax revenues jumped 81% as a result of the dissolution of the city’s Redevelopment Agency, a one-time phenomenon.  This surge tells us little about the future. Total expenses for governmental activities were $47.9 million in fiscal 2011-2012, a decrease of $25.5 million from the previous year.  Dissolution of the  Redevelopment Agency was responsible for most of the drop. The city’s departments, in the main, have been coming in under budget for the work they do.  In keeping with our budget philosophy, one-term windfalls are not being used for

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An Emeryville Retrospective: Sneaking into an Oaks Game in 1949

April 29, 2013
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An Emeryville Retrospective: Sneaking into an Oaks Game in 1949

I was thinking the other day about my first time in Emeryville, not driving past the city but putting feet on the ground in it.  The attraction was an Oakland Oaks ball game against the San Diego Padres in the summer of 1949, an encounter between two Pacific Coast League teams in the era before major league baseball came to the Bay Area.  Two friends and I, all teenagers with no money to speak of, heard from an acquaintance that you could sneak into an Oaks game through a loose board along the 45th Street wall of the stadium, the wall along the first-base foul line. Off we went in a borrowed car from our homes in Concord to mysterious Emeryville, found the loose board, and made it into the stadium. (I still feel guilty about our modest larceny.) We had hoped to see Ralph “Pine Tar” Buxton pitch for the Oaks, famous (or infamous) for loading the ball with pine tar hidden in his mitt.  The illegal stuff gave Buxton, a right-handed pitcher, a wicked “screwball” that broke back over the plate from outside on right-handed batters or in over the plate to lefties.  To our disappointment, Buxton didn’t

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What the City, and Wareham Development, Can be Thankful For

November 28, 2012
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What the City, and Wareham Development, Can be Thankful For

Finance Committee Update: Sales Tax Asset, Cheaper Fire Services, and Potential 12-Year Tax Exemption for Wareham Development The Finance Committee met on Monday, Nov. 19, just three days before Thanksgiving.  Are we feeling thankful?  Yes and no. On the positive side, city revenue remains up over last year— the new Target store in town is proving to be a solid sales tax asset—and expenditures by most city departments are down.  Doug Robinson, a regular advisor to the city on its investments, reported that our monies are in safe instruments and remain substantially liquid.  No surprises here, and we don’t expect any given the city’s conservative investment philosophy.  We heard a report on the new contract arrangement with Alameda County for fire services, and aside from a modest increase, county-wide, in overtime costs, the new system looks like a winner for cost savings over all.   I should also add that Debra Auker has been named Director of Administrative Services for the city, and she continues her responsibilities for managing financial affairs.  The Finance Committee members find her reports and analyses clear.  She is also responsive to our queries and suggestions. I think I speak for the Committee when I say that

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City Budget: Revenue Up, Spending Down, But Cost of Losing Redevelopment Funds Still Unclear

September 4, 2012
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City Budget: Revenue Up, Spending Down, But Cost of Losing Redevelopment Funds Still Unclear

Finance Committee Recommends Community Input on Priority Projects for Capital Improvement Pool The Finance Committee took a close look at the economic state of the city at its meeting last month.  What did the quarterly figures show?  Eight of the top 10 budgeted revenue sources showed increases over last year.  Sales tax revenues were up 14 percent, hotel occupancy tax revenue up 18 percent, and business license tax revenue up 29 percent.  These are the three biggest income producers for the city, and increases here suggest at least a modest local recovery from the recession.  Only the two smallest revenue producers, fines and vehicle license fees, showed decline, the first down 4 percent, the second 7 percent. It’s too early to start cheering, but the tide of up-ticks in key areas is encouraging. How about expenditures?  Taking the 12 categories of our spending in aggregate and comparing what was spent last year to the same time this year, we find a decrease in spending of about $1.5 million.  Revenue is up, expenditure down, and that helps explain why the city’s credit rating is excellent despite a considerable debt and the cost of financing it. So, what’s to worry about?  Here

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Emeryville’s New Budget: Some Important City Services Preserved But Debt a Staggering $250 million

July 2, 2012
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Emeryville’s New Budget: Some Important City Services Preserved But Debt a Staggering $250 million

The City Council approved a two-year budget for Emeryville at its meeting on June 19.  It’s our first financial blue print since the demise of Redevelopment Agency (RDA) funding, and it reflects the fact that building boom days are over.  The fight to pay for key services and essential projects without RDA support now begins.  Let me  offer some personal comments on our financial prospects. I’ll start with a selection of good news.  The city’s early childhood development center (ECDC) will be fully funded and strengthened.  Funding for our traditional community promotions grants and for ECAP has been found.  Fire service expenses have been shifted to Alameda County at considerable savings to the city, and service has been enhanced.  Funding to bring police services to full strength are in the new budget.  Essential public works projects—Marina dredging, sidewalk repairs, sewers, tree planting, maintenance—are funded.  Modest reserves are built into the new budget. Finally, provisions for the care and feeding of the city’s General Plan are provided. But here’s a look at the darker side.  I reported last year that the city’s long term debt stands at $165,474,763.  When you add interest, our combined debt is $250,102,582.  Funding that debt cost

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City Council Votes to Cut Community Preservation and Arts Staff

June 9, 2012
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City Council Votes to Cut Community Preservation and Arts Staff

The City Council made key budget decisions at its June 5 meeting last week. The basic budget package developed in the three May workshops changed little, but the variations that did emerge are worth a look. They center on staff cuts, funding for Capital Improvement Projects, and two low budget but useful programs/projects. Staffing cuts produced the sharpest divisions and a split Council vote. The job of Community Preservation Officer and an Arts Coordinator post generated the heat. SEIU representatives made eloquent pleas to keep both posts, making three key points. They argued that if reductions were needed, management and workers should share the pain. Why are just folks on the line rather than their up-line superiors at risk? A second argument focused on the danger of losing talent that could not be replaced. Down the road, as one of them put it, you’ll be sorry you lost the expertise these people represent. Finally, they argued for early consultation with workers when layoffs are first considered. SEIU didn’t win the day, but their reps’ arguments, I think, had an impact.  City Council Members Ruth Atkin and Jac Asher were sympathetic from the start. Mayor Jennifer West was inclined to “bite

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Three Days in May: Emeryville Budget Gets Hashed Out in Series of Meetings

June 2, 2012
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Three Days in May: Emeryville Budget Gets Hashed Out in Series of Meetings

City Staff to Bring Revised Budget to City Council June 5 Citizens, city staffers, and city council members wrestled with Emeryville’s next budget during three workshops held at City Hall on May 21, May 22, and May 23.  There’s a difference between plowing through the 245-page draft budget, as members of the Finance Advisory Committee did in April, and listening to the give-and-take between city department heads, city council members, residents, and other interested parties featured in these workshops.  Both experiences taught me a lot, and the two together were invaluable.  Let me share some impressions of what I’ve learned: City Manager Patrick O’Keefe and Treasurer Karen Reid stressed that the next budget is profoundly different than those of past decades.  Redevelopment Agency (RDA) funds are gone, about $30 million in total.  Mayor Jennifer West said, in essence, that the Redevelopment Agency driven boom growth days are over; we now need to concentrate on sustaining a vibrant and livable city with the means still available.   That’s a good starting place for making sense of the budget now under development. City staff, which peaked at 183, will now be 147 strong.  The biggest reduction comes from the transfer of 27 fire

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The City’s Financial Future

May 8, 2012
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The City’s Financial Future

Emeryville’s Financial Advisory Committee met on April 23 and tackled a draft of the city’s proposed budget for the next two years.  The 245-page document is a rough map of how the city will earn its living and pay its bills. It starts a budget process we citizens should watch carefully, and it proceeds in an atmosphere of state, national, and global economic uncertainty. The size of the city’s staff peaked some years ago at 182 employees.  Emeryville presently employs 148, and if the proposed budget is adopted, that number will drop to 143.5.  The drop in 4.5 more positions involves four different departments and includes an assistant city attorney, a building inspector, two economic development/housing staffers, and a community service technical aide.  This is our current “contribution” to the wave of recession-driven public sector job losses occurring right across the nation. On a more positive note, the proposed two-year budget projects that the city will take in $1,901,896 more than it will spend, despite the loss of $1.7 million in Redevelopment Agency funds.  The positive balance stems from reduced spending, an anticipated $750,000 boost in business license taxes, and an increase of $1.2 million in sales and hotel tax

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Emeryville in the Post Redevelopment Agency Era

March 8, 2012
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Emeryville in the Post Redevelopment Agency Era

The city’s Finance Advisory Committee met on Monday, Feb. 27.  Some of its business was routine, some not. First, some good news:  Revenue for the second quarter was up $1,512,843 over the same period last year, a gain of about 15%, and expenditures for the quarter were down $356,958.  That’s encouraging, and we hope these figures represent continuing positive trends, not just circumstantial or temporary budgetary adjustments. That’s about it for the good news.  On the grimmer side, consider the pending fate of the City’s Community Promotion Grant Program, which spent $94,500 last year to support artists, art organizations, art exhibits, access to local art, library programs, nutritional programs, low income legal assistance, and other worthy activities.  Between $91,000 and $92,000 of this funding came from our Redevelopment Agency.  And now that money is gone.  Should the General Fund be tapped to keep things going?  Should the list be pared?  Should a cap be put on the Grant Program and have entities compete for a slice of what’s still there? The Committee, wisely I think, deferred judgment on what to do.  We need to think carefully about our options, hear more from the community, and consider other possible sources for

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Bigger, and Better, Emeryville Finance Committee

September 12, 2011
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I recently attended my first meeting of the Finance Committee as a resident member and came away with positive impressions.  The Committee now has an expanded cadre: two city councilors, two business representatives, and two resident members.  By the time we next meet, a representative of the labor community in Emeryville will be added.  This is a striking improvement over its previous incarnation when just two city councilors served. Staff support for the Committee, led by Karen Reid, City Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer, came informed and responsive to the queries of members.  City Manager Patrick O’Keeffe and Assistant City Manager Dolores Turner also attend the Committee’s meetings. For citizens interested in how the city fares financially, the quarterly meetings of the Committee are a great place to get answers.  I found Reid’s “City of Emeryville Quarterly Financial Report: Fourth Quarter 2010-11, as at June 30, 2011″ especially useful, with its comparative data between this year and last. (Look for it on the City’s website.) Given the shaky state of the national, state, and local economies, the Committee spent most of its time looking at ways to keep tax revenues in town and to manage our investments expertly.  A comment

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