Funding for Chamber reduced by $15,000
About 50 voices spoke in richly layered unison at the start of Monday’s Crescent City Council meeting.
Post-Pledge of Allegiance, consensus was harder to come by. The council debated and then finally approved a final 2012–13 city budget, but only after hearing from many members of the public, one by one.
The resulting $17.8 million budget eliminates $15,000 in annual funding for the Chamber of Commerce and $6,000 for the Tri-Agency for Economic Development, among other reductions enacted to chip away at continued deficit spending, one year at a time.
For now, Fred Endert Municipal Pool won’t be closed on Saturdays, another unpopular proposal that would have carved $17,000 out of general expenses.
Eleven of 18 public commenters were pool-lovers, petitioning to keep the doors open six days a week. Many volunteered to help the council come up with alternatives in the coming months, such as raising user rates or figuring out exactly which hours could be trimmed back to save money, without eliminating another full day of access.
The pool’s budget also includes $50,000 in state grant funding, which may or may not be actually awarded.
The final budget puts the city’s $4.6 million general fund (that’s the money it spends on discretionary services, not public utilities) about $10,000 below the amount city staff repeatedly advised should be kept in reserve.
Several motions detailing what to cut failed for lack of a second before a proposal by Councilwoman Kelley Schellong passed 3-1. Councilman Rich Enea voted against the final resolution and Councilwoman Donna Westfall wasn’t there.
Schellong said dramatically reducing the Chamber’s funding for the visitor services and fireworks in one fell swoop wouldn’t be fair on such short notice. (City staff originally proposed pulling 40 percent, or $37,000, out of the previous year’s allocation of $87,000, effective July 1). Enea, on the other hand, supported the 40 percent cut from soup to nuts.
“Last year it was very difficult for me to eliminate a police officer position to fund the Visitor’s Bureau for $40,000,” he said. “The Chamber has the ability to raise money. There’s over 1,000 businesses in the county ... It comes to a point when we are having to decide if we are going to cut city services or give money out of our general fund to an organization that can help itself.”
City Manager Eugene Palazzo likened the beasts of general fund burden to a food chain, listing them in order of priority as: police, firefighting, streets, sidewalks, drainage, building inspection, planning, code enforcement, parks, pool and community contributions.
The Chamber fits into the last category, occupying the lowest rung of this fund-eat-fund world.
Most of the speakers who got up to advocate for the city funding the Chamber on Monday argued that the organization spends public money to feed public coffers. Marketing and visitor services result in increased Transient Occupancy Tax collections, they said. The TOT is levied per rented hotel room.
At the end of the meeting Mayor Kathryn Murray stressed that the final budget is “a very fluid document,” subject to amendment several times a year.
In other city news, the council discussed participation in the California League of Cities Conference in San Diego, a three-day event.
Four of the five council members and the City Manager will attend the conference this September. A $10,000 allotment in the general fund will foot the bill for the elected officials to attend. Last year, two members and the city manager went: each attendee spent an average of $1,645 on registration fees, hotel, food and gas costs.
“It’s a training session for City Council members statewide,” Palazzo told the Triplicate. “They have a series of sessions all throughout the days talking about how to run meetings and what the new legislation is. There’s a series of workshops that help council members learn how to be council members.”
Enea defended the expenditure, saying, “That’s our only training for the year.”