The "fiscal road show" that Walnut Creek officials have been touring about town paints a rather sobering picture of the city's economic outlook.
When the pie charts, bar graphs and bullet points are all laid to the side, you're left with an eight-year projection in which expenses outpace revenues each year, never mind library funding or aging infrastructure needs.
The deficit pencils out at $1.6 million for 2014-15, $4.2 million the next year and numbers in between after that. If the library is to be fully staffed -- the county pays for 35 hours a week -- and all roadways and buildings repaired, the numbers get even nastier.
Tag-team presenters City Manager Ken Nordhoff and Communications and Outreach Manager Gayle Vassar most recently brought the bad news to a small audience at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum. They cited steps the city's taken to cut expenses, including staff reductions, increased employee contribution toward benefits, reduced services and discontinued programs. They noted that while Walnut Creek has a sales tax of 8.5 cents per dollar, the city gets only 1 cent of that -- and only 9.4 cents of every property tax dollar.
So, to reduce a 45-minute slide show to its essence: Unless there is a sudden new revenue stream -- sales tax hike, anyone? -- the situation is not apt to change soon.
You didn't need to read too far between the lines to understand why this presentation was of special interest to Lindsay. The museum, dating to 1955, is a regional treasure to its supporters, but it's never wallowed in funding. If the city's in trouble, then so might be its annual $75,000 grant to the institution.
"I wouldn't say it's in jeopardy," Nordhoff said. "I think it's a question of what the interests and priorities of the City Council are."
Lindsay is hardly alone among the entities sitting on the bubble as the council carves out its next budget. The Walnut Festival gets city funding. So does the concert band. Art classes, summer camps, the historical society and the Gardens at Heather Farm are subsidized by the city.
You might expect this to horrify Norma Bishop, Lindsay's new executive director. The museum, which depends largely on private donations, is 25 percent behind where it was a year ago. But in testimony to her readiness for the job, Bishop has already started brainstorming revenue-generating ideas.
"We are constantly struggling with donations," she said, "and we can't afford to do that forever. We've got to raise our base level of support through earned revenue -- program fees and admissions."
Bishop can envision a corporate membership program, in which regional firms can use the museum's facilities for meetings and events. She pictures an arrangement through which local businesses sponsor student activities at the museum.
She sees an opportunity to sell food on the premises -- none is offered now -- both as a moneymaker and a convenience. "If you have small children," she said, "when they get hungry, you have to feed them or you have to leave."
Lindsay's new leader even dreams of a day when greater numbers of visitors will be drawn to the museum by a treehouse aviary habitat where children can climb among the wildlife. She's applied for grant funding for that.
The city's fiscal road show brought some sobering news, but not everyone's head was down. When there are new problems, you have to find new solutions.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.