WALNUT CREEK — A budget hashout to close a multi-million-dollar shortfall, a process council members called “completely insane” and “bizarre,” may finally be solved.
The two-year budget deficit that ballooned to more than $5 million — once the council took on the responsibility of paying for some library hours that once was paid for through an expired parcel tax — has tentatively been closed. The City Council will still have to adopt the two-year, $150 million budget at its June 17 meeting.
After hours of public comment and elected officials going around and around, the council tentatively agreed Tuesday night to raise fees, use more parking revenue for city services, cut back on celebration events and slash library hours to balance the budget.
The marathon meeting was complete with more than two dozen supporters of city aquatics programs, some brought to tears pleading with the City Council not to close the Clarke Swim Center seven months out of the year. For a savings of $200,000, this idea — along with discontinuing the city’s Nutshell newsletter — were the only two specific potential cuts brought up April 8. The idea riled swimmers and brought them to the meeting en masse. But on Tuesday, neither of those items was mentioned by council members, even after swimmers took hours to plead their case for the pools. So for the third budget cycle in a row, swimmers packed the council when winter hours were apparently not threatened.
Some swimmers were frustrated the city is sitting on $5 million, with a majority of council members opposed to using any of that to close the budget shortfall. Most of that money is gift from Broadway Plaza to allow a major expansion at the outdoor mall.
“You have accepted the project to rebuild Broadway Plaza; by doing that you have acquiesced to a $2.2 million sales tax loss, right?” asked swimmer Jon Jacques. “By doing that, you have now created a budget shortfall. We can be done tonight, you have it there.”
Councilwoman Cindy Silva said that if the council used that money now, there would still be multi-million-dollar shortfalls for the next eight years.
Mayor Kristina Lawson mentioned the pools when she suggested that $85,000 go toward figuring out whether the Clarke Swim Center could be run by another organization, such as the YMCA, instead of the city.
While the pools may be safe for now, other programs may not be so lucky. Likely cuts include library hours dropping from 56 to 44 open hours a week; leaving two city maintenance positions unfilled; $2 million in maintenance on roads, sidewalks and IT infrastructure; changes in front counter staffing at city offices; cutting the City Council travel and expenses budget; and eliminating certain city events such as
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New Mayor’s Reception and Veterans and Memorial Day celebrations. The city also would use $1 million in additional parking revenue toward city services, and use a council contingency fund to pay for grants to nonprofits such as Lindsay Wildlife Museum.
These decisions came after council members, except Justin Wedel, discussed their own proposals for budget cuts. Even with common agreement on some items, the discussion still stretched long into the night and into early Wednesday morning.
By the end of the meeting, after cutting more than $4 million, some council members said they wanted to discuss how to spend the $5 million of “one-time” money. That discussion will likely be in July, after the budget is adopted. The City Council must adopt the budget by July 1. They will get their next look at the preliminary budget, which will include all that was tentatively agreed to Tuesday night at their June 3 meeting.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.