CALIFORNIA CITY -- Budget discussions continued June 23 as a few department heads presented updates on a reduced budget to the city council. The Tuesday night version reflects cuts made on what City Manager Anna Linn describes as a “bare bones budget.”
Four of five councilmembers were present for budget discussions, with Mayor Pro Tem Parris leaving earlier.
The council will discuss more budget items Tuesday night, June 30 at 5 p.m. The meeting will be broadcast live online and can be accessed via http://www.californiacity-ca.gov. Those wanting to call in should please email, firstname.lastname@example.org by 5 p.m., to advise that you will be calling in. Call-in information is Conference Call-In Number: 800-719-7514 Conference Code: 114803. People can also make comments via “Ecomment” on the live feed.
Despite the goal of having the budget slated for approval by July 1, City Manager Anna Linn said budget discussions may wade into September. She added it’s a first in budget planning - based on the city’s actual financial data instead of on a previous year’s budget.
“This isn’t a perfect budget, it’s a ‘beginning of the conversation budget,” Linn said, “but it is an honest one ... there is no guessing about the numbers that have been presented.”
A revised budget showed deeper cuts than last presented. Some departments, like fire, will need to cut entire programs such as code enforcement. The California City Police Department will freeze or eliminate vacant officer positions.
Department heads said their budgets involved either freezing vacant positions or cutting expenses. The most recent revised budget reflected reductions across several sectors. The city will reduce its FY 2021 expenses from $3.52 million to $3.46 million, based against a $4.05 million revenue projection. The city manager department expenses increased from $86,911 to $87,211. Finance dropped from $240,100 to $227,100; pool and marina expenses were cut in half from $11,400 to $5,700; human resources dropped to $178,327 from $213,535.
Planning and city clerk departments saw negligible decreases, dropping by around $1,000. General government expenses, which includes city council, saw a reduction from $1,535,600 to $1,529,100.
In addition, she added she made all departments go back over three years in order to analyze how many hours were spent on cannabis. More money could be allocated to some departments like police and fire after they look at the revenues generated from that industry.
“It was not properly allocated out, so we have the $2.1 million in the cannabis permit fund,” Linn said. “That would be extra money going to each budget and each department.”
Police: Frozen positions, cut K-9 program
Walker noted that six officer positions “that we’ve been talking forever about” were frozen or eliminated beyond three new hires coming in. The cut would save $266,000, according to Walker.
Another $177,000 would be saved by eliminating payment for reserve officers. CCPD will also forego purchase of new vehicles beyond the ones already approved for purchase.
The K-9 officer program will also be cut, according to Walker. The K-9 program runs as much as $55,000 a year for the department. Expenses run from overtime for mandatory training for the K-9 officer Tello’s handler, vet bills and an emergency medical bill for the fiscal year. In addition, because the K-9 handler lives outside the city, there is wear and tear on vehicles.
“We’re just not getting our bang for our buck on the program,” Walker said.
Animal shelter positions will include just one full-time and one-part time position, which Walker said was all the city can afford.
Fire: Canceled events, travel, code enforcement elimination
Fire Chief Jeremy Kosick said the revised budget means that the fire department will need to cut its current annual physicals, cut out its travel plans and cancel any current special events it might otherwise hold.
This reflects just the bare bones budget presented Tuesday, without a possible infusion of around $300,000 in cannabis-backed revenue to the department.
Gone are code enforcement and both of its officers.
A lot of support for the Cal City Community Emergency Response Team will also be reduced. The youth fire explorer program and reserve fire department will get cut as well.
“We will have to cut all fire prevention education programs, fire investigation programs, support of our emergency operations center for equipment,” Kosick said. The department will also need to cancel purchase of any brush and emergency response gear for the year.
Kosick said 80% of his paid time as fire marshal has been spent on cannabis-related issues, including permitting and ordinance research.
Smith said the department should keep one code enforcement officer knowing there would be additional funding available from cannabis revenue.
Kosick said keeping one code enforcement officer plus keeping the department operational would cost $145,000, but agreed with Smith.
“I think the community is going to need it, especially with what we are going to be seeing in the future that we will need to keep under control,” Kosick said. He also requested cannabis funding should go toward a hazardous materials response team to deal with things like butane leaks
Mayor Chuck McGuire asked about cross-training of firefighters for code enforcement purposes; Kosick said there has been some interaction with firefighters tagging along to gain exposure but would be limited to odor calls.
Other adjustments under the current adjusted budget include:
— Freezing vacant finance director position
Only so far in planning
Councilmember Nick Lessenevitch noted the process of talking about expense cuts was a backward approach, when revenues should be discussed first.
“Our first topic should be about the revenue we will take in and the revenue that will come to the PD,” Lessenevitch said. “Without talking about revenue first, I don’t feel like we are in a position to give our chief the opportunity to develop his program and guide us in development of a five year vision for the department.”
Revenue discussions, he said, should include special taxes, general fund and cannabis-related revenue and its implications. He said without doing that first, the city can only continue what it’s been doing, “which is treading water.”
“We can’t go very far without that,” Lessenevitch said.
Walker agreed, noting that it would be hard to plot a more detailed budget without more information on revenue from cannabis-related fees.
Linn said money from cannabis revenues would be added into department budgets later, along with discussion of the role police and fire would play on the city’s cannabis team.
Councilmember Ron Smith asked if the police department would want to keep its K9 unit if received $300,000 in revenue from cannabis payback annually. Walker said the department could consider a lot of things with that amount, but noted the cuts he made totaled $481,000.
Another $300,000 could mean more officers or vehicles.
“We have to look at our priorities,” Walker said. “A K-9 unit is a luxury and we’re at the point where we can’t afford luxuries.”
Lessenevitch added an upcoming discussion related to the police budget will be the impact legalized marijuana sales have on crime. “I want to hear what is coming into our PD and what we are providing,” he said. “So far, I have not seen it have an effect yet.”
McGuire said the effect “is low but it is there.”
Lessenevitch added there should be discussion of high-priority expenses such as repair of the city’s dispatch towers and repeaters, along with upgrading computer systems.
The bigger discussion, he added, should be looking at how to either replace the city’s special property tax or find some other source of revenue.
“A special tax will have to exist in some other fashion,” he said. “The police department has to sell the community and the people who own land here of how valuable their service is to the ‘shareholders.’”
McGuire said a problem exists with landowners who either don’t live in-state or in-country and “couldn’t give a damn about this city because they don’t live here.”
The next round of budget discussions will include a five-year budget projections for the police department, cannabis compliance details and hours and more detailed information on other adjustments.