PINOLE -- Citing the demise of the city's redevelopment agency and the slow economic recovery from the Great Recession, the City Council unanimously approved a lean budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 at Tuesday night's meeting.
The 2014-15 budget allocates $44.7 million in spending, including a $13.1 million general fund, and creates a small general fund reserve of just over $800,000. Finance Director Richard Loomis stressed that the city is a long way from fiscal health, and this budget required deferring many projects -- again -- and using carry-over and reserve funds from programs as a patch over funding gaps.
"This is not sustainable long-term," Loomis said, adding that the city needs to find a way to increase revenues. To this end, there will be a measure on the November ballot to raise the city's sales tax by half a percentage point. Loomis estimates that passage of the measure, which would bring the sales tax rate in the city to 9.5 percent, would give Pinole $1.5 million in additional revenue.
Previously, Loomis said, Pinole was able to build up the city thanks to a partially state-supported redevelopment agency. According to a letter from City Manager Belinda Espinosa introducing the budget, the loss of the redevelopment agency means a loss of about $8 million annually.
It's a loss that still stings two years after the state ended the redevelopment agency program.
"The dissolution of redevelopment in the context of the financial situation of the city of Pinole is devastating," Loomis said. "This community used that money to maintain infrastructure and facilitate growth. Removing that tool from the toolbox is going to cause long-term problems for the city of Pinole."
At the June 3 council meeting, the council announced it would not appeal a state Supreme Court decision that it pay $13 million back to the state for money moved out of its redevelopment agency's account in advance of the dissolution of the redevelopment program.
"We did the right thing," Espinosa said of the court battle. "We fought as hard as we could for this community, and we lost, and we're moving on."
Among other items, the budget includes creating a half-time city administrative position for a grant writer, a full-time police officer, restoring the fire chief to employee status and supporting operations at the swim center and Pinole's cable television station.
Half of the $44 million is the first of a two-year payment plan for a wastewater upgrade project the city is facilitating with Hercules.
Following the council's earlier request, Director of Public Works Dean Allison presented a stark overview of maintenance and capital projects that were once again deferred because of funding. So far, $17 million has been deferred from road maintenance needs, Allison said, warning the council that main roadway arteries in the city were already showing the neglect.
A report on the state of the roads done this year recommended spending $1.2 million just to maintain current conditions.
Allison also detailed 15 projects around the city that combined would cost $355,500. The most pressing of the projects, he said, is a one-time rehabilitation of Pinole Valley Park's youth soccer field.
"I'm not going to make any apologies for this budget," Mayor Pro Tem Peter Murray said before the vote. "It's conservative, and it gets us through this year."
He added that because carry-overs are being used to fill spending gaps throughout the budget, he does worry about next year, though.