In Final Budget Study Session, City Council Light-Handed In Discretionary Cost Cutting

Only slightly more than $10,000 in non-departmental discretionary cost cuts were added to the over $1.5 million made to city departments and staff at a meeting Wednesday night.

At a third and final budget study session, the Pacifica City Council spared many discretionary expenses from the chopping block as it further honed its direction to staff on how to eliminate more thn $1.5 million from the budget.

Although the council had made fairly clear the direction it wanted staff to take when crafting the budget, to be approved July 1, when it came to departmental and staff cuts, it had yet to offer much direction when it came to such expenses as purchasing extra operating hours for Pacifica’s libraries beyond the minimum 60 the county pays for, financial support for the , and consulting fees for updating Pacifica’s General Plan.

City Manager Stephen Rhodes summarized his reading on their direction as such: Make no cut to the $83,000 the city provides to the Pacifica Resource Center rather than the tentative $10,000 cut initially proposed by staff, continue funding the Pacifica Visitor’s Center at $10,000 annually, cut broadcasting of Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission meetings on Pacifica Community Television, thus reducing that contract by $5,400, maintain the full consulting fees for the at $123,000 a year, keep all 14 of the extra library hours the city purchases for $75,000 annually and reducing city monetary support for the at Rockaway Beach Plaza from $4,000 annually to $2,000 annually for the next two years.

The council also decided to keep paying dues to the Housing Endowment and Regional Trust (HEART), which raises and leverages funds for critically needed housing in San Mateo County, such as Pacifica’s Ocean View Apartments, at $15,000 a year, although a spokeswoman for HEART at Wednesday night’s meeting said the organization is considering lowering dues for participating cities by 10 percent.

Rhodes said that the city can shift the $3,000 it spends on community cleanups a year, another discretionary, non-departmental cost, to the sewer fund as part of its with the California State Regional Water Quality Board over sewage spills that occurred in Pacifica in 2008.

The largest of all discretionary city costs, animal control services through the Humane Society of San Mateo County, at $249,400 a year, remains untouched. 

All in all, cuts to these non-departmental discretionary expenses totaled just $10,413 while cuts to city departments, including police, fire and planning, could equal $1,539,863 combined. 

Although Rhodes was able to recap what he saw as the changes or lack thereof in discretionary spending, council members did disagree at Wednesday night’s meeting as to whether certain items should be cut or not.

Councilmen Len Stone and Pete DeJarnatt said they did not see providing the visitor’s center with $10,000 a year as a good investment because of doubts about how much revenue its existence actually captured for the city. 

“I don’t really see the return on investment on the visitors center,” said Stone.

Councilwoman Sue Digre, on the other hand, wanted to preserve funding for the center. Councilwoman Mary Ann Nihart and Councilman Vreeland said they were fine with leaving the funding as it was. 

Discussion of funding for the visitor center, which is managed by the Pacifica Chamber of Commerce, also brought up discussion of the to the council where, in exchange for $54,500 in funding, it would provide marketing services for the city, such as a master online calendar of events and a searchable vacant commercial real estate website.

Stone recommended that council consider using the $10,000 it provides for the visitor center, plus maybe $3,000 more, to help the chamber create those websites.

DeJarnatt said he thought even providing the chamber with $10,000 was a stretch, and he would not go for its marketing pitch as long as it supported political candidates in the city. 

Nihart said she did not know where the city would get any money for the chamber’s proposal.

In the end, the council indicated that the chamber’s pitch, as it stands now, would either be shelved indefinitely or rejected. Stone, former chair of the chamber's board, was disappointed. 

“I tried to carve out a small amount of money for economic development and filling empty commercial spaces, but I couldn’t get any support from the other council members,” said Stone. We have a budget of over $25 million but we don’t invest in developing our economy on an ongoing basis. That’s a big problem.”

As far as the $4,000 that the city currently gives to Coastside Farmer’s Market annually, DeJarnatt said the agreement originally made with market manager Erin Tomey that the market would be self-sustaining by now, so the city ought to eliminate its share of the funding. Vreeland and Nihart, however, were in favor of either maintaining the city’s share or reducing it to $2,000 a year for the next two years, which is the course the council finally took.

DeJarnatt and Nihart seemed to favor cutting $10,000 of the Pacifica Resource Center’s funding, but ultimately the body tentatively decided not to. Several members of the public were there Wednesday night to speak on behalf of the center.

Heather Tanner, a client of the center, said that Pacifica needs the support it offers now more than ever.

“They (the Pacifica Resource Center) was there to tell me someone in Pacifica cared about me and that I would remain a member of the community” after being laid off, said Tanner. “What they did was make me and my family lifelong supporters of the resource center. Please consider whom this is helping and who this is hurting.”

The council also decided not to cut any library hours, despite Vreeland and DeJarnatt suggesting they be reduced from 14 to 7. 

More on the ongoing cuts and revenue measures at the city can be found in the packet handed out at Wednesday night's meeting, attached as a PDF in the gallery to the right. 

Lena Robinson May 13, 2011 at 05:57 PM
Yes Todd, why this obsession with public sector employees? Most (if any) are not getting rich on their salaries. Why not go after the obscene amounts that CEOs, board members for publicly-traded companies and the like? The parasitic banker-types who brought us the near collapse of our economy in 2008 are making record compensation this year, many, many-fold higher than the public sector employees will ever make. Why do you keep going after the people who do the real work around here? Stop undermining our already shrinking middle class!!
Bruce Hotchkiss May 13, 2011 at 06:09 PM
Very interesting, Todd's wife is the CEO of History San Jose, which receives 39.5% of its funding from the City of San Jose according to its web site. So while Todd bemoans that public employees feed from the public trough, at least part of his life style is paid for by the hardworking citizens of San Jose.
Mary Ann Nihart May 13, 2011 at 06:24 PM
Norman I think you are correct about asking for the financials for even the $10,000. Sometime ago the Council reduced what supported the visitors center by $40,000 I believe. That was made up for a bit by creating the Buiness Improvement District (BID) for the hotels. The hotels have voluntarily given money to support the visitors center, but the City set up the BID for them. I simply want to know what is going on with the finances of the Chamber and what the public's money is being spent on. It is not huge, but it does need accounting. I know that other council members have been asking for these numbers for some time. I am not sure I can speak for others when it comes to the politics of the Chamber and right now I am short on time. I was not backed by the Chamber and I am not sure that they have done any endorsement formally for any council member. I will say more in my blog and I am always happy to explain my thinking about the decisions I make. thanks for asking. Right now I need to get back to work. All my best Mary Ann
louise May 13, 2011 at 06:50 PM
Maryanne, do you have any financials from the farmer's market? Why do you continue to subsidize a group of non pacifica folks? If the Chamber of Commerce is a non profit, there financials are public. I think you are putting up smoke.
Todd Bray May 13, 2011 at 07:01 PM
Bruce, the not for profit museum my wife runs saves the city of San Jose over 2 million a year. The museums collection of over 500,000 objects belongs to the city of San Jose, is the largest region history museum and collection in California. San Jose decided way back in the 1990's to farm out it's collection and museum to a not for profit run by real museum professionals not public employees. The museum services 25,000 school children every year, hosts 14 cultural affiliates, and has over 250 dedicated volunteers some how have been there for over 30 years. The city is paying as you've shown here a fraction of what the operation costs are for it's collection. My intent has been to save city employee jobs and services by asking all our employees to voluntarily reduce their compensation to fit within our revenues. You've had some other interpretation of that. Why you choose to attack Alida is beyond me but hopefully we shall meet again in person and you can apologize. Or better yet apologize here on AOL/PATCH.
Bhatman May 13, 2011 at 09:23 PM
It was shocking to see their "marketing plan", an amateurish joke not worthy of being a high school term paper. Who do they think they are kidding? This was an attempt by the Chamber of Commerce to transfer public funds into the pockets of the "friends of the chamber" and produce some brochures and websites? If you want to call it a "stimulus package" that would be a little more honest, but this isn't doing the taxpayers of the city any good.
Butch Larroche May 13, 2011 at 09:40 PM
You beat me to it Norm. I did not see anything Bruce said as an attack and should require no apology. I no Bruce can fight his own battles but really Todd, an attack? I also agree with Louise that the Farmers Market should not be funded by Pacifica at all.
Todd Bray May 13, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Norm, lets meet and talk in person.
Steve Sinai May 13, 2011 at 10:45 PM
Mary Ann's the only council member to engage the public. I think it's very unfair to jump on her back simply because she makes herself available.
Bruce Hotchkiss May 13, 2011 at 11:11 PM
Norm, part of my state pension was as miscellaneous (also paid into SS) and part was safety (did not pay into SSN. As well I did not always work for the state so I had enough quarters to qualify for SS although the amount I collect is reduced from about $812 per month to $655 per month. I lived and worked in Canada for 22 years so I have a small pension from Canada (about $400 US per month). Add in the almost $800 I earn from my part-time job and I'm okay here in Vegas. My mother was a teacher Norm and I have friends that teach so I'm aware that most teachers do not collect SS. If I remember correctly my mom worked some summers in order to get enough quarters to qualify for SS. Things may have changed since then though. I do feel relatively lucky though for sure. Many worked their entire life only to see Bernie Madoff ruin their retirements.
Todd Bray May 14, 2011 at 12:57 AM
History San José is a private non-profit charged with managing the City of San José's historic assets. Where Our Money Comes From: 39.5% City of San José 30.1% Members & Individuals 17.4% Corporations, Foundations, Organizations 13.0% Earned Income: Events/Programs/Other Where Our Money Goes: 80.0% School & Public Programs/Exhibits/Research Library Services 14.0% Administration 6.0% Fundraising
Mary Ann Nihart May 14, 2011 at 01:08 AM
Actually, I have heard the presentation of the financial data and costs of the Farmer's Market two or three times since being on city council. This decision was slightly different than presented by Camden. The council split two to two to cut the funding all together, but I had not voted. I offered a compromise, taking $2,000 this year and the rest next year. I believe the Farmer's Market needs to stand on its own. Yet, I want us to be fair-give people an opportunity to find other funding. If we are laying off staff, I believe everyone should take a cut. I thought the Resource Center should be cut at least $10,000, the majority of the council did not agree. I do not get to vote on the Library, although I hope that will change. Given the feedback of the Chamber about the Visitors Center, I think maybe we should take half there too. Marty from the Best Western had very different information about the Visitors' Center, so it remains unclear how much good it does. $10,000 probably doesn't even cover the rent but of course we do not know. Remember this year's budget is not final. Every cut we take this year makes it slightly better for next year. All of these organizations need to be prepared because $2 million more in cuts next year will result in cuts or defunding for most. One final note: I really have not "blown smoked" for many, many years. I am simply too old and life is too short, but happy to answer questions about my thinking behind the decisions I make. :)
Bruce Hotchkiss May 14, 2011 at 01:18 AM
According to HSJ's web site in 2010 San Jose contributed almost $900,000 to HSJ. You obviously are the beneficiary of San Jose's generosity at a time when the mayor had declare a fiscal emergency. I am not attacking your wife but the hypocrisy of your statements. Is a museum more important than social services for those on a fixed income? You have tried to demean me and the fact that I had to move for financial reasons, you have attack all public employees (we contribute nothing financial) yet you somehow can justify San Jose spending $900,000 for a museum. You seem to say that no one should earn over $100,000 per and you attack the wages of public employees. Public employees provide the services many on fixed incomes depend on yet you want to send more public employees to the poor house. I have said over and over again that the system of spiking and ongoing massive overtime needs to be addressed but you ignore that and try to ridicule me and my pensions. I have laid out every cent I get and I've seen nothing from you Todd.
Yes Sir! May 14, 2011 at 01:23 AM
When History San Jose burned through all its money in 2007 and had to go back to the City, hat in hand, to beg for more money in order to make its payroll, did Todd lecture his wife that she and her coworkers needed "to ball up and deal with it" and to drop "the Princess and the Pea attitude" as he's very publicly been demanding that Pacifica's firefighters and police do?
Mary Ann Nihart May 14, 2011 at 01:28 AM
Overall, despite the proposed budget cuts, we are still spending more than we are taking in by roughly $600,000. This is happening throughout the county. I think we must reinvent government. Combine duplication in services, decrease redundant administration, and increase customer service. In Pacifica alone, we have four different government entities and three of those are solely in Pacifica. Each has a corporation yard, motor pool, financial service, etc. I think we can find ways to share in town. If not, then we have to reach across borders to other cities and the county. With this approach mind, the lower our employees salaries go compared to average for the county, the harder it is to find other cities who are willing to share with us. Final note: The data on the California AG's website about salaries includes all taxable income and is from 2009. For Pacifica those number would include medical cafeteria cash (which has been cut), vacation sell backs (which have been cut), uniform allowance (which has been cut) and more. The numbers are the total taxable income of each employee.
Josh McFall May 14, 2011 at 06:25 AM
It is disappointing that, yet again, some members of City Council have chosen to fund "nice to have" services over core services and infrastructure. Pacifica is a safe town precisely because you have dedicated emergency services personnel to respond every single time a resident picks up the phone. To think that emergency services can be cut is like saying that you don't need doctors because you're healthy -- you're healthy precisely because of the existing medical system. And while you may not need that doctor at the moment, when you really do need him, you won't want anyone else in the world. And once again, Todd Bray has completely missed the point. I really wish I lived in Todd's world, where I could dictate how much to pay people who render services to me based on how much I feel I can pay them. The last time I hired a plumber to fix my toilet, I didn't get to say, "Sorry, I can only pay you 80% of your hourly wage -- but I want you to fix my toilet with the same care and quality parts as if I was paying you what you're really worth." He likely would have told me to deal with the broken toilet and walked out. Just like your dentist, plumber, carpenter, or mechanic, government employees provide a service. Those services have value. Just like everyone else, we have already made concessions to work for less than the market rate due to the economy, but that can only extend so far. Now we are relying on Council members with the right ideas to lead Pacifica out of this mess.
Bruce Hotchkiss May 14, 2011 at 04:06 PM
Here's a web site that tackles the public pension issue, http://www.letstalkpensions.com/. Admittedly it is biased towards public employees but facts are facts.
Steve Sinai May 14, 2011 at 05:02 PM
Josh,really, if the salaries and benefits of Pacifica city employees do get cut, where are the employees going to go? I don't see other municipalities hiring. I work independently and am not an employee, but in the fall of 2008 the company I was working at told me that I had to cut my hourly rate by 10%, take it or leave it. I wasn't too thrilled about it, but I understood the situation and accepted it. If I'd left and gone anywhere else, I'd have run into the same thing. I'm currently making about 60% of what I was making 10 years ago. You guys are making much more than most people in Paciifca in base salary and benefits, and on top of that, you get pensions which the rest of us don't get. Don't expect a lot of sympathy from city residents, who only wonder why you shouldn't be subjected to the same economic pain as they are. While I think Todd hurts his argument when he characterizes city employees as greedy and selfish, and I certainly don't agree with his belief that city employees' incomes should be sacrificed in lieu of economic development, I personally think many city employees are overpaid.
Bruce Hotchkiss May 14, 2011 at 05:22 PM
Steve I think you're mixing apples and oranges, or at least MacIntosh and Delicious. City employees have taken a pay cut. And saying, "I personally think many city employees are overpaid" is non-specific. If there are some who are overpaid (and I wouldn't disagree), say who and Council should deal with them. Without having specific salary package for every single employee it's really impossible to say that, "You guys are making much more than most people in Pacifica." As much as everyone would like to believe it, Pacifica is not strictly a blue-collar city. The median household income is in the mid- to upper-$70,000s. The basic problem is that Pacifica has too long been "poor and proud of it." We have one of, if not the, lowest commercial and retail tax bases in San Mateo County. Poor management for at least 20 years have left Pacifica in the spot of not being able to provide the services its citizens deserve.
Steve Sinai May 14, 2011 at 06:20 PM
Bruce, have city employees had their base salaries cut? From what I can tell, they've agreed to forgo expected pay raises, had to contribute a little more to benefits and such. It is risky to cut salaries below those of surrounding communities, but I'd expect surrounding communities to be cutting pay, too. As for who exactly is overpaid, there are too many employees to list individually. Having once been a cop in the military, I can't help but pay attention to police salaries. I think experienced beat cops should be making maybe $80K/year plus benefits, and a pension that guarantees them something like $45K/year. I wouldn't get too upset if they made another $25K-$30K in overtime. Anything beyond that is a problem because the cops are going to burn out, or it indicates overtime is being abused. They also should have their retirement age raised. The idea that someone can retire at age 50 at 90% of peak-average salary is both unbelievable and infuriating. Absolutely no city employee, except for maybe the city attorney and city manager, should be making more than 150K, and that includes overtime. I agree that the no-growth attitude of many recent city councils has left us in a position where we can barely pay for minimal services. I'd love to be able to pay city employees more, but the reality of the financial situation is that very few of us are getting paid what we want or think we deserve.
Rebecca Lorenz May 14, 2011 at 06:40 PM
$54,000 for the chamber of commerce? Why? If their "visitor center" is indeed the little place at Rockaway Beach, then they need no money at all. I've been down there many, many times on Saturdays, especially during nice weather, and seen the place closed. On those days the employee is gone for about 2 hours in the middle of the day. Last time was 2 weeks ago. Approximately 7 groups of tourists stopped by between approx. 2 and 4 p.m. but left because no one was there to help them. If the physical "office" is closed to people who just happen to come through town, then why hand out more money for a website? Is the chamber of commerce unable to collect information themselves and launch a website and keep it updated? I thought they had business people as part of their club. Certainly several members could work on this project. Why do we pay the Humane Society so much money? Their leader makes good money, so they are ok, they have a lot of volunteers and receive a lot of donations. Do we pay them to make Pacifica calls? Thank you for addressing these problems. Now Remember what folks NEED: water, food, shelter, clothing, heat, streets that don't destroy their vehicles (sorry but I have to drive, I cannot walk 12 miles to work or take a 2 hour bus ride). We need police and firefighters to help us in emergencies. After the basics, we can pay for other things. Don't be elitist in assuming everyone has disposable income. Use some common sense.
Josh McFall May 14, 2011 at 10:22 PM
Steve- In the past five years we've lost about 12 police officers to other jurisdictions. We use between 16 and 20 to patrol the streets 24/7. You can do the math on our turnover rate. Almost all of those officers are being paid more at their new agencies. While agencies are not hiring en masse, some agencies ARE hiring, mostly to fill losses due to retirement or laterals lost to other agencies. While the big three (Oakland, SF, and San Jose) may be losing officers, many of those are being picked up by other area cities who have been better managed. And if you want to rely on the fact argument that "well, they can't go anywhere RIGHT NOW..." you're welcome to. However, the economy will eventually improve and those disenfranchised officers who are making below-market-rate wages WILL leave, and we will be left without our most experienced employees. As we demonstrated in our last contract, the POA is open to some cuts to compensation to help the city thru this financial criss, but we must stay at least somewhat competitive with the marketplace if we want to retain our best and brightest.
Mary Ann Nihart May 14, 2011 at 11:40 PM
Rebecca - you have some very good points, especially about the humane society. Most of the cities have complained about the steep cost they charge us to manage all of our stray, injured, and dangerous animals, spay and neuter programs, animal born disease monitoring and control, and evaluations, hearing and monitoring of animals in various stages of appeal due to an attack and more. They have the facility, the vehicles, the staff, and most importantly the amazing liability insurance to contend with. The cost of the Coyote Point facility is staggering, especially the liability. In addition, they manage the the reviews and hearings for all animals that are deemed harmful. I watched one dog go through months of evaluation, training, and monitoring before being euthanized. Bottomline: we have to pay the price or end up running our own service. So, yes they manage Pacifica animals. Unless we could replace all that I described with something else, we are unfortunately held hostage to the expense. Plus I think we should be very weary as a city of the liability that goes with this type of service.
Scotty May 15, 2011 at 12:34 AM
There was an article that I posted either here or on Fix Pacifica that talked about SFPD poaching several officers from nearby jurisdictions (Pacifica was the biggest winner) and starting them off at around $100K. I just tried to Google it again, but couldn't find it, but it's probably somewhere on sfgate.com. It just goes back to the tired argument that's Economics 101, but that Todd still doesn't get -- if you pay everyone below market, you are guaranteed a workforce of the lowest performers, since the highest performers are able to easily seek employment elsewhere for what they're actually worth. At least if we choose who we cut, we can try to ensure that our limited budget dollars go to the best and the brightest.
Steve Sinai May 15, 2011 at 02:28 AM
Medical research labs pay good money for animals. We could make some money off strays.
Bruce Hotchkiss May 15, 2011 at 02:37 AM
Or as the rabbit lady in "Roger and Me,' pets or food.
Peter B. Olinger May 15, 2011 at 06:43 PM
I continue to be amazed by our elected officials and appointed management actions to continue funding non-essential services at the expense of our city's police, fire and public works. Nevertheless, we the citizens of Pacifica are ultimately responsible as we have voted for the policies and individuals who have served and presently serve our city. Again, at this point in time our city's essential core services - Police, Fire and Public Works - need to be funded in order to recover and maintain a city infrastructure that will sustain current and future economic development. Elected city government and appointed management can then prioritize and provide remaining budget to other city programs and services.
Josh McFall May 15, 2011 at 08:48 PM
Scotty, I believe the article you are referencing is here: http://www.baycitizen.org/policing/story/lateral-academies-offer-affordable/ SFPD has hired 4 of our officers, and the SF District Attorney's Office has taken 2 as investigators -- in the last 5 years. That's 6 experienced officers that we have had to replace, costing Pacifica taxpayers tens of thousands (at least) in hiring and training costs, not to mention all of the lost experience and institutional knowledge that will take years to replace.
Rebecca Lorenz May 15, 2011 at 09:17 PM
Another problem regarding cutting police and fire and public works is homeowner's insurance. Insurance companies keep track of these issues. Further away your home is from the fire department, the more you pay for fire coverage. With a smaller police force, I imagine that insurance could also go up as crime could increase. Ambulance service may suffer which means that instead of getting to the hospital in time to save someone, the person will die en route or before paramedics arrive. And next comes the possible lawsuit due to poor service. There are so many issues at hand, it's overwhelming. Start with what everyone must have, what we need, then move on from there. Maybe a list of absolutely essential services would help. Maybe everyone in town should send their list to the city council to help them out? Maybe the top 10 needs? Real needs. It's no fun to be out of money when people are accustomed to asking and receiving things, but the money is not there, so we all need to grow up and deal with reality. Our parents and grandparents did it and we can do it. We all need to stop demanding things and start helping each other and our city. Regarding the humane society charging us so much, is there a breakdown in services and charges that the public can see? How are we billed? Per incident? Per day? Per day PLUS per incident?
Lena Robinson May 15, 2011 at 11:23 PM
Too bad property owners could not support the fire assessment. These cuts would not have to be so bad.


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