Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Happenings: A Raise, "The Ferdman Plan", and Budgeting

Tonight’s City Council meeting was about money—I suppose they all are, but this evening was more explicitly about finances than usual[1].  The $180M budget was presented, council members voted to increase their future salaries, and fees were levied.  Councilmember Frank Ferry was absent, Councilmember TimBen Boydston was grandstanding with alacrity, and Mayor Bob Kellar was wishing it would all be over sooner rather than later.  In short, the council behaved as expected throughout.

A Dramatic Opening

Councilmember TimBen Boydston opened the meeting with an emphatic reading of the “Prayer for Government” written by Archbishop John Carroll, the first bishop of the United States, in 1791.  Perhaps it was slightly modified.  He closed by requesting that God Bless Santa Clarita. 

Then, Boydston led the flag salute by inviting those in attendance to “face the flag of the greatest nation on earth” and pledge allegiance. 

Yet more dramatic flair came from Mayor Bob Kellar.  He spoke with sincere amazement and adulation about an Eagle Scout project completed at Wildwood Canyon.  Scout Justin Reust managed meetings, resources, and twenty volunteers to install 2 benches, a kiosk, and some mulch.

The final dramatic flourish came from Alan Ferdman during Public Participation.  He laid out the appropriately—and modestly—titled “Ferdman Plan” for meeting chloride limits.  UV radiation is a central feature of the plan that would save millions of dollars over the existing preferred treatment options.  “That’s quite a title,” said Kellar of the plan.  It was.  Ray Henry was the only other public speaker, mentioning that he would like to have a meeting between Sand Canyon Mobile Home Park residents and members of the panel that review rent increases. 

Consent Calendar

There was very little discussion of the Consent Calendar.  As one might expect in Southern California, the roads received a lot of attention—street sweeping contract, the spiffying up of bus stops, and landscaping and pedestrian improvements on Sierra Highway.  A $110,000 allocation to support the Concerts in the Park series over the next two years and a number of other bookkeeping items rounded it out.  All of the items passed with the recommended actions, though various members abstained, as needed, if they lived too close to a project.

Matters Monetary

According to the agenda, the Fiscal Year 2013-14 budget is $180.6M—or about $900 for every man, woman and child in the City.  Sales tax is the single biggest revenue source, generating 17% of the total budget figure.  In terms of expenditures, public safety has surpassed parks, recreation, & community services, gobbling up $21M while $20.7 goes to parks & rec.  This represents a somewhat staggering 33.5% increase in public safety spending since the start of the recession.  That is staggering, right?  (I've been told I stagger too easily in the past).

City Manager Ken Striplin highlighted some particular changes and expenditures. He noted that extra law enforcement at Jake’s Way (2 two-deputy units) has decreased crime by a third, so it will continue to be supported.  Additionally, over a quarter-of-a-million dollars will go to hire more librarians for young-adult programs and to assess Saugus’ library needs.  I waited for a library privatization critic to comment, but none did.  Striplin made the obligatory speech thanking the City Council for leading the way to a balanced budget with a healthy reserve.  I found TimBen Boydston’s comment more refreshing: he thanked the taxpayers for giving the council money to spend on projects for which the council could then take credit.  He also lamented the expenditure of $9,500 for a River Rally biologist each year and many other state agency-mandated line items, but was generally OK with the budget at large. Ultimately, the budget was accepted and will most likely be formally adopted at the next meeting.  Councilmember Marsha McLean used her exasperated “yes” on the budget hearing as a vehicle with which to convey her annoyance at Boydston’s many questions and rhetorical flourishes.  (I consider myself one of the foremost readers of meaning in McLean’s votes at the dais).

A series of public hearings formally accepted the adjustment and/or levying of fees for open space, stormwater pollution prevention, special districts and the like.

Paul Strickland left the Arts Commission, and Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste appointed Patti Rasmussen to fill-in for the remaining 7 weeks of his appointment.  The other members of the City Council confirmed her choice, a courtesy not extended to TimBen Boydston when he tried to make appointments last year.  (No one else brought it up so I thought I should).  Weste’s reasoning behind the appointment was that Rasmussen would do well in continuing Strickland’s work to establish an Arts Foundation.  Establishing such a foundation is critical in that it would make art initiatives in Santa Clarita eligible for federal grants and the like.

A Raise For Us, On Us

The City Council is allowed to increase the salary of future council members (they don’t vote on their current salaries but those received in the next term) by up to 5% per year, not compounded.  This is a sore subject, because TimBen Boydston receives significantly lower cash-in-lieu benefits than do the other members of council, though his salary is the same.  As Al Ferdman and Cam Noltemeyer would remind the Council during their comments, this disparity does not sit well with many in the community.  City Manager Striplin talked about the “cafeteria-style plan” with the ability to customize benefits and packages, but it’s an issue that is still rather raw.  When City Attorney Joe Montes chose not to say anything on the subject, Kellar and Weste laughed (more nervously than inappropriately, I think) at the attempt to keep the issue from flaring up again.

Boydston suggested that there should be no increase in salary.  “When we have the opportunity to say ‘no’ to ourselves, it is a good thing.”  No one would second his motion.  Weste and McLean agreed that, like other City employees (which aren’t the same as elected officials…but logic doesn’t always reign at CC meetings) they should receive a pay increase.  McLean suggested 3% per year for the past two years.  Her motion passed, with Boydston dissenting.  The cynical may argue that it was easy for Boydston to vote “no” in the knowledge that he could look selfless while still receiving the pay increase, but he had motioned for no increase initially, so perhaps he deserves the benefit of the doubt.  In any case, effective July 2014, salaries will go up by 6% such that members will make about $100 more than the current $1,728.84 they earn each month.

Public Participation at the end of the meeting included only Cam Noltemeyer.  She was upset that Laurene Weste served on the board of an environmental group that received nearly $1M for chloride and water quality outreach.  Weste pointed out she hadn’t been a volunteer on the board for nearly a year, but this point comes up rather persistently, nonetheless.  Finally, Boydston griped about not being invited to a chloride meeting held between business interests and regional water board administrator Sam Unger (the guy who holds up binders of papers as evidence that science has happened).  Boydston didn’t have any new points to bring up, but he was butthurt—in today’s vernacular—that the council gave the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation hundreds of thousands of dollars, yet that funding doesn’t buy them all an invitation to regionally important meetings.  Kellar, who had been invited, basically advised him to get over it—though not quite so directly.  The meeting then ended.

[1]Enjoy the agenda.  Really, please do.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, I Heart, for keeping us all current.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, I Heart, for keeping us all current.

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