City spreads the dough and saves some dough
Breezing through $65.6 million in one daylong meeting Tuesday, the Chico City Council managed to remain fairly upbeat in the face of an increasingly depressing economy.
“I don’t think it’s run-for-the-hills panic, but people should also not think it’s business as usual,” City Manager Tom Lando told members of the City Council. “Unless the governor has something from left field, we are fiscally sound.”
The marathon June 3 session, in which councilmembers also donned their Redevelopment Agency hats, included the preliminary, unanimous vote on the 2003-04 budget, which stands at $65.6 million.
There’s even $11.1 million for improvements to roads and such, plus $460,000 in reserves—although Lando warned that the city might have to dip into those reserves if something unexpected happens at the state level.
The council also quickly decided which of about 60 community organizations should get how much funding from the general fund, community development block grants and motel taxes. (Transient occupancy taxes are intended for economic development, tourism and the arts.) The total, $754,065, included $150,000 in cuts Lando had proposed to help balance the general-fund budget.
Most of the recipients sucked it up, but Dan DeWayne of University Public Events politely expressed his disappointment that the budget recommended by the city’s Finance Committee offered up barely half the $38,329 UPE got in 2002-03. The council opted to up the ante to $33,289. Councilmember Steve Bertagna said, “Maybe I’m just more liberal than I thought.”
Councilmember Coleen Jarvis reiterated her belief that in tight financial times the city shouldn’t start funding things that haven’t been on the list before. “We don’t even know how we’re going to fund services we’ve funded for 25 years,” she said.
As usual, the Chico Chamber of Commerce got the largest allocation, $121,920, for its tourism activities. Another $42,672 went to the Chico Economic Planning Corporation. The Chico Creek Nature Center got $60,960, and a variety of social-service organizations and arts groups got from $2,000 to $30,000 apiece.
Even with the belt-tightening, the city got off a lot easier budget-wise than its educational counterparts, a fact that did not go unnoticed by high-ups.
“In many respects we’re skating through the budget process,” said Lando, adding that it will take until 2004-05 before the city really begins to suffer. Layoffs and cuts at Chico State University, Butte College and the Chico Unified School District will hurt the city in many ways. At the same time, sales tax revenues, which typically rise 5 to 10 percent a year in Chico, went up less than 2 percent in the 2002-03 fiscal year.
In a scene that is being played out in cities all over the state, Lando explained that not only is California in the midst of a lagging economy, but its leaders also have decided to try to solve state budget problems by raiding city coffers.
Also at the meeting, the council approved contributing $25,000 to the Downtown Chico Business Association’s fund that will be used to hire a consultant to develop an improvement district for the downtown. Katrina Davis, executive director of the DCBA, said she expects the district to be formed by 2004, with the Sacramento consultant Downtown Resources devising a master plan that would show how to attract new businesses and boost the reputation of the downtown. The DCBA snagged $43,688 in motel tax money at the meeting.
Supporters of the restoration of the Senator Theatre also made an appearance on the eve of the Right Now Foundation’s potential eviction from the historic building. A deal with property owner Eric Hart has the city kicking in a $200,000 forgivable loan, but now the foundation is hoping for more support, perhaps in the form of a loan that could be used to prepay a couple of years’ worth of mortgage. The council will talk about the Senator again at its July 1 meeting.
What with taking away city departments’ capital projects money and delaying the purchase of new police vehicles and a $430,000 phone system, Lando said, “We have done some usual things to balance our budget.
“We’re in strong fiscal shape; we just need to be cautious."