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Your City Council Report

 

 

 

Invitations, Celebrations, Awards and Budget Discussions Set the Stage for the May 22nd Vallejo City Council Meeting.


 

By Hatfield McCoy

5/26/12


The May 22nd Vallejo City Council meeting was off to a positive start with the entire city council dressed in the cultural costumes of the Philippines. And a Filipino contingent of important dignitaries were in attendance in honor of a proclamation declaring the month of June as “Philippine Cultural Month.” The presentation was made by Councilman Sunga who stated that the city of Vallejo now has a little over 24% Filipino population with 11% throughout Solano County. The president of the Philippine Cultural Community center, Norma Placido was on hand to accept the certificate.

 

A commendation award was presented to Vallejoan Adam Mangosing in recognition of “Life Saving Assistance” for a heroic act he recently performed in the city of Vallejo. That award was presented by the Mayor. This was followed by a presentation from Philip Sales, Chair of the Route/Vine Trail Engineering committee. Mr. Sales explained that by 2024 there will be a forty-seven mile trail in place stretching from the Vallejo ferry building to the city Calistoga. Sales graciously thanked contributing organizations and businesses as well as dozens of property owners who have agreed to allow easements to make this trail come to fruition. “This will be forty-seven miles of one of the most scenic trails in the entire country,” Sales said proudly. Three million users per year are expected to use this trail at a total cost of some fifty million dollars, much of which will be paid by private donors and businesses.


The Vallejo City School District was on hand to give an overview and update of new programs and upcoming things to expect within the school district. Academic officer Cheri Summers, Director of Secondary Education Mike Santos, Director of School & Student Accountability Dr. LaTonya Derbigny and the Superintendent, Ramona Bishop gave the overview. School board members Wilson and Stewart were in the audience. Santos stated: “We have 300 students in the 9th grade learning community; it is cutting edge educational reform.” They spoke further about newly established academies within the school district such as Law/Justice, Computer Tech/, Biotech, Multi media, Green environment, Public Service, Civil Engineering, Life Sciences, etc. It is their intention to have “project based learning” and students will seek internships in hospitals, law offices and other such areas. They are going to make a concerted effort to “reduce referrals and suspensions,” as well as reduce the “drop out rate” which is currently among the highest in the state. Councilwoman Hannigan asked “What is the portal through which the community can be involved?” To that they replied: “Encourage people to attend school board meetings, volunteer, or call our offices.” Sunga pointed out that more families must be involved stating: “The drop out rate and truancy rate is very low in the Philippine community primarily because our families are involved with our children, their attendance and their homework. We must encourage all of our families to become involved.”


The community forum was opened by a Vallejo resident named Denise Lyons who stated the following: “Will you please stop the ‘tug of war’ between Skyview Memorial and the city of Vallejo? My brother’s remains have been in a safe up there for many months, and we cannot bury him until you settle this dispute.” The mayor asked staff to “look into this for her.”

 

Retired police officer Burky Worel, former member of the Charter Review Committee, and currently a member of the Citizens Advisory committee for Public Safety asked the following question: “What ever happened to the Charter Review committee and its findings thus far? I have asked this question several times, and no one on council has given me an answer. Some citizens worked hard on this. If you don’t have time, then let the citizens decide about our recommendations by putting it on the next election ballot as measures,” Worel said in frustration. Worel also questioned the amount of $200K it will take to put ‘Participatory Budgeting’ in place for the city. Following Worel, foster child activist “Ms. Vega” invited the community to the ‘National Awareness for Kids in Foster Care’ dinner at Dan Foley center on June 24th from 4pm to 7pm. She once again made a plea for clothes, and other things for the children stating that the public can drop items off at fire stations, or other sites where designated. “There are some 18 barrels throughout the city for this cause,” Vega said. The public was also invited to a film called “Transform Vallejo” to be shown on June 1st at 7pm at the Union Baptist Church in Vallejo. The speaker used the analogy of a butterfly stating that Vallejo is “now emerging from its cocoon after bankruptcy.”


Before the formal meeting began Councilwoman Stephanie Gomes asked that the meeting be dedicated to the recently belated Mr. Bob Allgood who passed on May 16th. Mr. Allgood had taught for many years at both Vallejo High school, and Solano College. “He gave much to our city throughout his long life. He was a very responsible community member,” Gomes said.


On the action calendar city staff recommended a resolution amending the city of Vallejo parking fine schedule by adding two fines: 1.) A $63 fine for parking a vehicle over 5 tones on city streets. That item received some concern from Vallejoan Mike Rhemus who stated that many people bring RV’s home after a long weekend, and might leave them there for a day or two to unload and unpack. The police chief then stepped in and reassured Mr. Rhemus that RVs would only be tagged during the day “never at night” had he assured the council; and it would only be complaint driven or where there is clearly a sign posted. The chief stated that if a person moves a vehicle within 72 hours, there would likely be no problem, unless there is clear signage. The other item includes a $40 fine for parking a vehicle over 6 feet high within 100 feet of an intersection. The chief said the same rules would apply to this fee measure also. That motion carried unanimously.


The next item discussed was ‘Participatory Budgeting’. This concept was originally introduced by Councilmember Brown. Basically it was given the green light by council to put 30% of Measure B monies aside to allow citizens to develop their own projects, place them on a ballot and vote on them. Initially, Council agreed that each council member would select three civic organizations to be appointed to the PB Steering Committee. And then those civic organizations would internally select an individual from the organization to be on the PB Steering Committee. Instead of making direct appointments on 5/22, Councilmember Brown recommended that the City Manager send a letter to Vallejo civic organizations inviting them to submit a letter of interest to be appointed to the Steering Committee thereby allowing an array of organizations to be considered for an appointment and the council to make an informed decision. The Steering Committee will work with a recognized expert in the field of PB to design Vallejo's unique PB process and a PB handbook. 


After the PB handbook is developed by the Steering Committee and approved by the Council, the city will roll out a series of public meetings allowing the community to identify potential projects. Once a list of projects has been identified, smaller self-selected subcommittees will flesh out and determine the feasibility of those projects, as well as develop budgets for them. The final stage is placing the feasible projects and budgets on a ballot that the entire city will have an opportunity to vote on in the spring of 2013. 


The meat of the meeting surrounded the budget. “This is the first posting of a budget since our bankruptcy era. Our guiding principles must accomplish much, and set a tone. The earliest we will be able to present the final version of the new budget will be June 12th,” City Manager Dan Keen stated. “Conservatively, with measure B money, we will have a 5% reserve in place,” Keen continued, “and we must continue contributions to reduce pensions while meeting ongoing services,” he said. “In the big picture, revenues will begin to stabilize and there will be no further reduction in staff or city services in order to maintain our core structure. However, we will have a deficit. He further stated that we have experienced a loss in grant funding with a 40% increase in the water fund, a 16.6% increase in Economic Development, and a 30% increase in the police and fire departments. Revenues from sales tax are up 2%, business licensing tax is up 14% and revenue from motor vehicle licenses are on the rise. However, there is no growth in property tax, utility user tax, or transfer tax and we still suffer with large unemployment. “The California state budget is alarming,” Keen said. “The state is facing a $15.7 billion deficit and is already modifying redevelopment even more.


With respect to Vallejo, Keen stated that only 10 businesses in town provide 40% of all sales tax. And “Some measure B money will be spent on six very temporary positions because it would be fool hardy to spend any more than that on staff,” he said. “The Marina needs dredging, and it would behoove us to do so in order to get ongoing funding from the waterways. The Golf Fund will improve perhaps with better management, we will have Mare Island facility assessments or the residents will have to pay sans further development. There are three police officers currently funded by Kaiser, and we must continue that employment as stated in the grant, otherwise we must pay it back. This will have to be payable by Measure B money. And we must maintain one Narcotics officer which was also paid previously by grant monies. We will add two attorneys who will come on board to work with and support Code Enforcement. These positions will be entry level, lower paid positions with hopefully someone fresh from law school. This will save money in the long run by cutting down on consultants,” Keen said. “We will also add one Economic Development person to bring in more business. One fire marshal and two civilian fire inspectors will be added at no cost due to rotating positions and program revenues. In the city attorney’s office, we will have one other assistant attorney and one legal secretary. This will help with legal costs, and cut down on consultants also. I am also adding a Finance Dept. revenue collection tech, and one general fund personnel tech. I want to rebuild our reserve to 25%, preferably, but definitely at least to 15%,” Keen demanded. He continued: “Ideally, I would like to see more funding for disaster preparedness too, and we have allocated $1.7million in street maintenance work above what we had previously annually allocated. We will be spending $500K to take down old buildings on the north end of M.I., $250K to improve the library bathrooms, some for the museum lighting, Cunningham Pool will see the boilers replaced, the Senior Center will receive $50K for updated air conditioning improvement, and I would like to see some money set aside to help us with ‘interagency efficiencies,’” Keen effused. Keen enthusiastically encourages the public to comment on the budget on the designated website, stating he will carefully consider everything therein suggested. He would also like to prepare a five year outlook forecast plan, but currently we might be looking at a $3.4 structural deficit unless we can do more negotiating. “We need structural balance,” Keen asserted, “we need building reserves, and it is critical to maintain service levels, and funding for infrastructure. We must reduce PERS and post retirement funds very soon. That must happen,” he said.


In the public forum Vallejo CPA J.D. Miller stated that the city needs increased jobs and economic development as opposed to new positions at the staff levels. “We need a strategic plan to spend money from the general fund, i.e. property tax, utility and sales tax. We need to have $100 million over the next ten years,” he said. “We need to take care of unfunded pension liability. We owed $250 million as of 6/20/10, that is a quarter of a billion dollars that must be paid,” Miller said.


Mayor Davis questioned why any Measure B money would be slated to be spent on salaries. “When I campaigned for this Measure B, I promised the voters that this money would go to the roads, and other necessary things this city needs, and not salaries,” Davis said, “This is almost unacceptable to me,” he noted. Councilman Sunga touted his desire for more Economic Development funds stating: “Other cities spend far more on Economic Development,” he said. Councilman McConnell agreed with Sunga, and further stated: “We should also find room for a volunteer coordinator at the police and fire departments,” McConnell said. “This would help save considerable money in those departments by increasing the volunteer staffing and freeing up officers as is done in other cities,” he said. Councilman Hannigan expressed some concern about the new ‘Neighborhood Law Program’. She was assured that these lawyers would probably be on staff for a two year tenure, and be hired at a bare minimum salary. McConnell ended the overall discussion with this cautionary note: “We need a policy in place that would allow us to know when/how/where general reserve monies will be spent,” McConnell asserted. “I have seen this too many times, two or three years after a bankruptcy, it is very easy to slip back into ‘slapstick’ spending. We must, as a council, know where every one of the taxpayers’ money goes at all times. That is why I asked the City Manager for a thoroughly detailed report of each employee’s compensation, and I encourage the taxpayers to look carefully at these columns,” McConnell said. Councilwoman Marti Brown stated: “It seems pretty clear to everyone that we need long term budgetary goal setting. We need to know where we are going over the next ten years, even though some of us might not be here, we should have it in place for future councils,” Brown said.


The next Vallejo City Council meeting will take place on June 12th. At that time more of the city’s budget will be illuminated. If you have suggestions, or questions for or about the budget, please use the dedicated city manager’s website address, or leave a message at his office at (707) 648-4575. Mr. Keen’s staff is very amenable in answering questions and returning phone calls. It’s important to remember, as City Manager, the buck stops with him.