|RP council digs into budget with renewed zeal
They label them “work sessions.”
When Rohnert Park’s City Council sits down for a work session in city hall, it means they’re ready to take on a big project. In Tuesday afternoon’s case, it was the city budget for 2012-13. They’ve got a July 1 deadline for this budget.
It was the first of a series of work sessions scheduled for later this month and weekly in May and June. They had ample reports spelling out the city’s financial profile and backup material from City Manager Gabe Gonzalez, Interim Finance Director Cathy Orme and consultants Management Partners. They had three “plans” to work with: Strategic, Long Term Financial Recovery and Implementation Action.
Tuesday’s work session took in a longer planning process than just next year’s budget. The years from 2012 to 2016 were tossed out on the worktable. This long range look brought out two factors looming on the horizon: the “sun-setting” of Measure E approved by voters in 2010 and due to close down in 2015; and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (FIGR), which will arrive as soon as the casino-resort hotel is built and as soon as the first gambler lays hands on a slot machine.
Measure E was lauded. It supplied 28 percent of the city’s revenue in last year’s budget, with city taxes providing the other 72 percent.
“Measure E’s been a lifesaver for us,” said vice-Mayor Pam Stafford. “It’s nice to see what it’s accomplished for us the last two and three years,” said Councilman Joe Callinan.
No one suggested renewing Measure E on a 2015 ballot. But no council member said “let it die.”
Mayor Jake Mackenzie was the only one to mention the MOU with the Graton Tribe a decade ago. Ironically, Mackenzie was the only council member to vote against it back then.
“The money the city will receive from the Graton Tribe is clearly spelled out in the MOU,” Mackenzie said. ”This agreement has to be in our minds in long range discussions.”
The unspoken possibility was FIGR monetary promises spelled out in the MOU could replace the “sun-setting” of Measure E.
But the council was leery of long-range economic conditions three years away.
“We’re entering uncharted waters,” cautioned Councilman Amy Ahanotu. “But we shouldn’t wait until any impact happens but try to handle it in advance.”
Added Mackenzie, “Forecasting on what will happen is a difficult thing.”
The council also discussed the city’s Financial Recovery Plan, as outlined by Orme. RP’s fiscal budget is still in a deficit mode. But it’s less than $1 million dollars, compared to the dark days of a few years ago when $24 million was cited.
Not many financial figures were tossed in the mix of Tuesday’s two-hour discussion. It was mainly a positioning of what needs to be done in the next few weeks. Lined up already are the 2012-2013 budget and the Financial Recovery Plan.
Councilwoman Gina Belforte reminded the council a “strong economic development plan is needed. The national economy will have to come roaring back to see a major increase in our sales tax revenue.”
“I think we’re on the right track,” said Callinan.
“We have the operating instructions,” said Mackenzie. “This session is just a workshop. Now the real work begins.”