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. 

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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