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  Dwelling on the Past or Embracing the Future?
June 1, 2004

Today is June 1, and 29 days from now on June 30, the City Council is supposed to adopt the budget for fiscal year 2004-2005. Usually, sometime in May, we start seeing the general outlines of a budget, and by early June, we are fighting over details.


This year, we are being told that our first glimpse of the budget will be on June 7, leaving just 23 days to study, debate and adopt.


As of last Tuesday, the finance director still could not provide, with any certainty, an accounting of the City’s current financial condition. Certainly, nothing could be provided in writing or in any level of detail.


According to the Charter, the city manager shall “…prepare the budget annually and submit it to the Council and be responsible for its administration after adoption,” and “The Mayor shall work with the City Manager in preparing an annual budget for submission to the City Council.”


There is nothing for ordinary City Council members to do but wait patiently while the mayor and city manager decide the fate of the City and then serve it up, this year with only three weeks to act.


One reason the budget process is running so late this year is that City staff is consumed by the reduction in force. Granted, this is an extraordinary challenge, but the City has never been very good at multi-tasking. Although there are fewer people to work on the budget, as well as other tasks, there are, even after layoffs, staff numbers comparable to other cities the size of Richmond, or larger – see “A Tale of Two Cities”, TOM BUTT E-FORUM, December 9, 2003. Doing more with less has been a trend in the U.S. private sector for years, resulting in ever higher productivity. Achieving productivity gains in the public sector is apparently comparable to putting a man on the moon.


Life must go on after layoffs, and someone needs to be planning for the future. I have long advocated that a few talented City staff members or consultants need to be assigned permanently to seek solutions for the challenges of the future rather than the entire upper management concentrating on the problems of the past.


Some examples follow of challenges facing the City on which no clear solutions have been provided:


·         Richmond has a backbone computer data and financial management system called SAP that is not serving the City’s needs and cannot provide real time information on the City’s financial status. This is one of the prime causes of the current financial crisis.

·         The City’s interim City Hall is costing $110,000 per month, and there is no plan for the future of the Civic center, including where its components will be and how they will be funded.

·         There has been no implementation of the plan to resolve the issue of the year for 2003, residential fences.

·         Code enforcement and abatement is essentially dead in the water.

·         The Richmond Plunge stands abandoned, with no money and no movement toward the plan adopted by the City Council for its rehabilitation and expansion.

·         City-owned properties throughout the City are covered with weeds and brush with fire season fast approaching.

·         Richmond streets are in the worst condition in decades – maybe ever.

·         After over a year from clear policy direction by the City Council, the street sweeping program is still stumbling toward implementation.

·         There is no permanent city attorney or city manager.


This isn’t to say that there is no good news. Small victories are everywhere. Thanks to some dedicated City staff members and various consultants working on quality of life projects for the future, we can report some examples, all of which depend largely on funding from outside sources:


·         The Central Richmond Greenway design is finally complete, and funding is within grasp. See http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/news/local/states/california/counties/west_county/8803402.htm?ERIGHTS=-8453031369808981196contracostatimes::tom.butt@intres.com&KRD_RM=7ospnqwupquvowqqponnnnnnnn|Tom|Y.

·         An RFP is circulating for the relocation of the historic Trainmaster/Reading Room building and the development of its new home in Point Richmond.

·         The interim location of the Red Oak Victory has been resolved, and the $1 million grant for its restoration will soon be in hand.

·         Non-profits and volunteers are stepping in to keep community centers and senior citizens centers open and provide programs.

·         The interim Visitor Center for the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park will officially open on June 5 at the interim City Hall Lobby.