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City Adopts $137 Million Balanced General Fund Budget With Little Acrimony

In a process that is becoming pleasantly congenial since the financial troubles of 2003-2004 (see City Adopts "Hail Mary" Budget - Asks Unions For 5% "Give-Back", July 09, 2003, and Whiskey to Beer, June 24, 2004), the Richmond City Council adopted a balanced General Fund budget of nearly $137 million, the third year in a row that has seen significant increases in expenditures for City services, beginning in 2005 (Balanced Budget Adopted Amid Little Fanfare, July 1, 2005). I didn’t even write about the budget adoption in 2006.


Two items of note that came out in budget discussions:


  • Despite significantly increased expenditures for street reconstruction and maintenance from a variety of funds and revenue sources including Redevelopment and various capital funds, the City’s expenditures on streets is still insufficient to improve the overall Pavement Condition Index, which was the worst of any city in the nine-county Bay Area last year (see http://www.mtc.ca.gov/news/press_releases/2006/rel376.htm and Richmond Has Second Worst Roads in Bay Area, October 18, 2006). In other words, Richmond’s streets are continuing to get worse, not better. In the recent community survey, the category “improving street paving conditions” received the highest overall score (99% essential, very important or somewhat important) to the question, “How important, if at all, are the following issues for the City to address?”


  • As described in the WC Times story below, the only significant debate that dominated the proceedings related to how much money would be budgeted for police. This is a continuation of a debate that has bitterly divided the Council for weeks.


One faction, led by Viramontes and Rogers, wants to add significant amounts to the budget for additional police officers, despite the fact that the current budget covers some 23 positions that are unfilled due to a shortage of qualified applicants that is hampering not only Richmond but every police department in the Bay Area. Although focusing on the need for more officers to fight crime, police department budget advocates have also been waffling between using a budget increase to hire more officers and using it to pay higher compensation in order to attract more applicants. No one has suggested specifically what other programs would be cut to increase police funding. Incidentally, in the community survey, “Increasing police staffing to meet standard of two officers per 1000 residents” fell slightly below streets as the community’s highest priority, with 98% rating it “essential, very important or somewhat important.”


The other faction, to which I belong, sees no emergency to budget for more police officers when we can’t hire enough to fill the positions already budgeted, especially when the source of the funding has not been identified. When we can get closer to filling our funded positions, I am all for looking at ways to budget for further increases. Regarding compensation, the current compensation is competitive with other Bay Area departments and is subject to an MOU with the RPOA (police union) that extends through 2008. Negotiation for a subsequent MOU will begin likely later this year, and that is the proper time to address the compensation issue. Although intuition would lead to a reasonable conclusion that higher compensation would result in attracting more applicants, there is no credible evidence to what extent the level of compensation is actually a factor in the hiring of additional police officers in Richmond. Fighting crime is becoming a more complex undertaking, and Richmond is moving into new and innovative approaches that combine police with other strategies, such as the proposed Office of Neighborhood Safety, which grew out of a series of community meetings and a recently concluded year-long study that recommended a ten-year commitment to a new Office of Neighborhood Safety as a permanent department staffed by 10 persons. The office would use proven best practices to coordinate all violence prevention programs serving the City of Richmond. In the budget hearings, City Council members pitted staffing of the Office of Neighborhood Safety against a higher police budget. The mayor city manager, who are designated by the Charter to prepare the budget, had proposed funding eight of the ten positions. In a compromise vote, the City Council funded two positions.


City leaders hail balanced budget

·  RICHMOND: Healthy spending plan raises hopes for a better bond rating to upgrade Civic CenterBy John Geluardi

Contra Costa Times

Article Launched:06/28/2007 03:49:32 AM PDTRichmond marked another financial milestone this week when the City Council approved its fourth consecutive balanced budget since the $35 million budget crisis of 2004.

The council chamber erupted in applause late Tuesday night when the council voted 8-1 to approve the $133.5 million operating budget for 2007-08.

The consistent financial discipline means the city now can ask for a more favorable bond rating, which will translate to millions in taxpayer savings in the next 30 years.

"The city is really moving in the right direction," Finance Director Jim Goins said. "We also have a balanced budget forecast for the next five years, which is what bond-rating agencies really look at."

The city is seeking an A-minus bond rating from Moody's Investors Service for the $110 million Civic Center renovation, which is the largest public works project the city has undertaken.

"Four years ago we couldn't have gotten a bond for a port-a-potty," Councilwoman Maria Viramontes said. "Now we have a $133 million balanced budget, and we cannot only put out a bond, but hopefully we'll get a good rating. I'm really excited."

Richmond's general fund covers most city departments and services such as public safety, libraries, parks and recreation, and public works. The city's overall budget, including dedicated revenue such as redevelopment tax increments, sewer and waste water fees, is $282.5 million.

Richmond Police Department, typically the biggest general fund expense, will have $57.5 million next year, about $8 million more than last year. The fire department is budgeted for $28.6 million, an approximately $7 million increase over last year.

Quality-of-life funding -- which includes libraries, literacy and youth employment -- received $22 million for next year. Money was added to the budget to increase the mayor's salary from about $36,000 to $54,000, though the pay raise has not yet been approved.

Campaign funding got a boost with $100,000 that will be available to council candidates who do not receive contributions from influential industrial, union and developer interests.

As if to celebrate the city's increasing financial stability, the council also appropriated more money for the city's three annual festivals and parades.

Councilman Jim Rogers voted against the budget because he wanted police to receive significantly higher salaries.

"My concern is that we aren't getting serious about hiring police," Rogers said. "The only viable short-term response to the crime problem is increased police staffing, and we needed to take some action to show that we understand that what we have been doing isn't working."

City Manager Bill Lindsay has earmarked funds to hire at least 23 police officers.

However, there is a shortage of qualified candidates, and cities across the state are having trouble reaching their staffing goals.

The police-hiring argument exposed a division on the council about the balance of violence prevention versus violence suppression.

A new department that has been proposed sparked a contentious exchange between council members at Tuesday's meeting. The Office of Neighborhood Safety would coordinate and focus the violence-prevention efforts of police, schools, social services and nonprofit groups.

Viramontes challenged the $2 million that had been suggested to establish the department and succeeded in reducing the number of employees from seven to two until the program can be studied further next month.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was frustrated by the delay after more than a year of preparation.

"This department is very, very important for this city, and the cost is comparatively small," she said. "This is an extreme injustice to the residents of the city."

Viramontes said she would like the project to progress but wants to be sure that it will not grow into an expensive social services department.

"It will happen," she said.

Reach John Geluardi at 510-262-2787 or at jgeluardi@cctimes.com