The City’s Financial Future

May 8, 2012

Emeryville City Hall

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 revenues.   We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed regarding these projections, but they are reasonable assumptions based on present trends.

But who indeed can predict the future?  In our meeting, City Council Member Nora Davis, a member of the Finance Committee, worried about further state takeaways from municipalities and the possible need for additional litigation expenses over funding for Redevelopment Agency projects already under way or in advanced planning stages.  Other members added their own frets. In my own darker moments, I worry about a stalled national economic recovery and turbulences in the global economy.  Our city staffers are not unaware of such threats.  Reserves and contingency funds are built into the proposed budget.  We can only hope they won’t be needed.

We were all pleased to see $58,000 in the budget for community promotion grants and funding from other sources for our traditional celebration of the arts, the Emeryville Historical Society, and the new Poet Laureate Program.  We also noted with approval $50,000 set aside for the Emeryville Community Action Program or Ohana, its successor organization.  These are all programs that add to the vitality of the city and help honor our obligations to one another. Let me add personal satisfaction at the inclusion of $230,000 a year for funding of the Emeryville Child Development Center, which will underwrite efforts to turn it into a program of outstanding quality.  Investing in the youngest among us is a sure step to a better future.

Committee member Jac Asher asked staff for a clearer, more comprehensive introductory statement to the proposed budget, spelling out the principles and values that shaped it.  We all agreed that such an introduction might help our fellow citizens better understand the complex document and, with luck, encourage them to participate in giving it its final shape.

How to get involved?  Three key budget workshops are scheduled for later this month in the City Council Chambers at City Hall.  All are open to the public and are designed to allow broad input to the budget-making process.  The dates are:

Monday, May 21
Tuesday, May 22
Wednesday, May 23.

Each session starts at 5:30 pm.  Come have your say!

Bill Reuter is a Resident Member and Chair of the Emeryville Finance Advisory Committee.

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3 Responses to The City’s Financial Future

  1. Brian Donahue on May 9, 2012 at 4:07 am

    Thanks for this Bill. You’ve really cut to the chase by centralizing how a budget reflects a set of values. Important!

  2. Joe on May 23, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    When I look at the staff cuts, I only seeing people in the front lines doing the work are going to be cut. In Economic Development, why do they need a director of redevelopment at $180,000 a year when there won’t be a redevelopment agency? A lot of smaller innovative cities have combined economic development and planning agencies. On Monday night, the City Manager said he does his own clerical work. Get him some help and free him up to do some of his old duties as Economic Development Head. He won’t be as busy either as he won’t have redevelopment funds to cut developer deals. I heard on Monday night that the two people who the Director of Economic Development, who seems like a flat and uninspired person wants to cut is Nancy Templeton, the community oriented Code Compliance person who handles everything from graffiti abatement, to dumping to community gardens and more. And the other staff person is only $35,000 and her duties are to run the public art program part-time. She has a background in the arts, and according to what I heard on Monday night, has taken the arts to a new level. The arts and a clean city will be important to economic development after redevelopment. Eliminating the director position, and moving the few remaining permanent Economic Development staff to other departments — Nancy to Public Works, the brownsfield and grants person to Public Works, the housing and real estate two staffers to Planning, and the arts person to the City Manager’s office. It seems we ought to get the word out more for the arts. There’s a public info job, which some of those duties could be given to this arts person, who spoke and seems smart. That job was $80,000. So keep Helen Bean for a few months to wrap up the paperwork for end of redevelopment, and create a new city that runs more lean, with more interdepartmental collaboration. That is what the private sector firms that pride themselves on creativity and innovation would do. I have to be out of town tonight but I hope someone will say this to the City Council. OUR FUTURE IS AT STAKE. Thanks.

  3. suzanne on May 29, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    I agree with Joe. Cutting the project manager in charge of code enforcement and project manager in charge of the public art program seem like the exact opposite of what Emeryville wants to accomplish. keeping the city clean and beautiful is what Emeryville staff and residents pride themselves in! Helen Bean does absolutely no work that is necessary or meaningful at this point, she’s just creating work to keep her own job. Not sure why Pat is protecting her, or why Pat is protecting managers (who earn what these two positions earn combined!) at the expense of city needs and priorities.

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