The City of Concord hosted a two hour Concord Budget Workshop called “Living within your means.” 69 people attended of which about 18 were city staff, plus 4 of the City Council (Helen Allen was absent). The audience was divided into 7-8 tables and there was a briefing on general budget issues by the Mayor and the General Manager with some questions taken from the audience.
Then each table was put through a background discussion and an exercise to list the priorities within 5 broad categories :
– Community Looks (Graffiti removal/Design Review/Tee planting/Neighborhood code enforcement)
– Support for Business,( attract new businesses, expand current ones and revitalize target areas)
– Creating a Safe Community (police functions),
– Community Quality Experiences (PreSchools, Golf Course, Senior Center, etc)
– Infrastructure (maintain parks, streets, building code inspections, facilities maintenance)
Participants were then asked to discuss the reasoning behind our choices and deal with the budget problems. The actual method that was used was called the “Penny Game” and design functionality for the future workshops is hurt if I get into the mechanism of the game, so let’s skip that detail so as not to prejudice the next two workshops.
Each table had a facilitator and a recorder who put the points on a large tag sheet. Each table had one person summarize the priorities and budget problem approach.
The highlights of the Introduction Discussion and the Question and Answer early session as presented:
1. The Concord’s immediate financial problem is about $10M structural deficit with revenues at $66M and expenses at $76M.
– a. City spends 53% on police, this is in line with most other cities our size who do not have Fire Departments as part of the city budget. Other major sections are Public works/Engineering 14%, Recreation 9%, Community Development 7%, Internal Operations 17%
– b. 33% of the income comes from sales tax, 32% from Property Tax
2. The city uses the PERS system for pensions
3. The city does not have a spike problem as was exposed in the Fire Department for the County
4. Police have a pension of 3% per year of service with retirement at 50 while others have 2.5% with retirement possible at 55. There is a cap of 90% about on retirement relative to last salary.
5. The Stimulus Funds have allowed for the re-pavement of Clayton Road and that money does not come out of the General Fund. This in fact relieves pressure on the maintenance side for quite a few years.
6. The Concord Naval Weapon Station (CNWS) is not anticipated to impact the budget for 5-10 years and the current meetings, EIR’s expense etc are funded by a Federal Base Closure Grant
7. Grants constitute 99% of the capital budget for things like road construction
8. The City reserve, initially at 30% cannot be realistically reduced much below 15%. The cash is maintained in government funds such as the Local Agency Fund and the interest on it is less than 2%. The city is risk adverse and policy prohibits it from getting involved in what would be called “normal” investments that carry a greater risk.
9. People are encouraged to shop at stores in Concord as the city gets 3/4 of a cent of the total sales tax collected. A typical small car (maybe $25,000) yields about 189 dollars in tax benefit. Stores that are in the un-incorporated areas within the city do not contribute to the city sales tax revenue, these were identified as Sam’s Club and the Sports Authority along Concord Avenue near Buchanan Airfield.
10. The city outsourced its tree-trimming program as an example of reducing staff and long term liability.
11. A question was raised whether the denial of Wal*mart several years ago had any impact on lost sales tax revenue. Dan Keen said this was before his recent tenure, but that in theory any additional sales tax revenue helps. This triggered a response by Councilwoman Laura Hoffmiester to say that the Council did not block Wal*mart, but instead sent their proposal back for an additional traffic study and that Wal*mart then withdrew their request to position themselves in North Concord where Lowes just opened.
12. Salaries and pensions/benefit represent about 70% of the costs and the city staff has been cut from 499 in 2008 to 415 currently.
13. City staff had already taken a 5% pay cut with management at 10-15%.
14. To reduce staff Concord had 64 people take early retirement and 8 laid off last year
At my particular table we had the Chief of Police (David Livingston, who is running for County Sheriff), as the facilitator and one of the major city planners as the recorder. There were seven citizens at the table with the following years living in the city: 45-44-27-25-23-23-11. A glance at the other tables seemed to indicate a strong representation of long time residents. Holding the meeting on a Saturday morning at the Senior Center may have influenced the demographics. I am curious what the evening turnouts will look like.
We were asked the main reasons for moving to the city; at our table the responses were
– Good place to raise kids
– Open attitude
Then we went to priorities. My table had the police/safety, and then infrastructure of the city (maintaining roads, lights, parks) with the cuts falling somewhat evenly. However we emphasized the importance of a major volunteer outreach to supplement the city efforts.
Each table went through a public summary of its priorities with nearly all having police as number one, but some considerable differences in what was second. A common theme was that cuts were generally even but varied widely in detail. Some participants wanted even cuts, but others wanted cuts to be proportional to size of budget. There was a mechanism in the game to force a focus on one area or the other but this was not readily visible in the verbal summaries given at each table.
With two more public workshops there may still be plenty of data to be collected to see if there is a consensus or the development of some program approaches to the problems.
<span class="description"Concord Budget Workshops
– Wednesday, March 3, 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.,
Centre Concord, 5298 Clayton Road, Concord, CA
– Tuesday, March 16, 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.,
Cambridge Elementary School, 1135 Lacey Lane, COncord, CA</span