The San Marino City Council submitted it finishing touches to the city’s $29.3 million budget at its meeting on Wednesday, June 14.
It unanimously continued the approval of the budget to the last statutorily permitted day, June 30, when the council meets at 8 a.m. at City Hall.
Collectively, the council agreed to amortize the city’s CalPERS unfunded liability—currently valued at approximately $29 million—over 30 years.
“All cities face the unfunded liability situation,” said Contract Finance Director Misty Cheng. “I’m seeing astronomical figures in the other cities that I’m finance director of.”
She continued, “That’s always a moving target. The unfunded liability will always move because of the discount rate of PERS, etc.”
The decision requires the city to pay an annual lump sum payment of $1,172,236. The new total will result in a savings of nearly $250,000, which the council can choose to appropriate to another segment of the budget.
Cheng suggested that such savings could be invested in a ‘trust fund’ with Public Agency Retirement Services, or PARS, which, she claimed, would provide a better return on investment.
“A lot of cities are doing this as well,” she added.
Interim City Manager Cindy Collins said the recently established ad hoc committee to review the city’s finances would consider the item in the near future.
Council Member Steve Talt then began to propose cuts one city department at a time.
“It’s not that much money overall,” Talt said of his proposed cuts. “But it’s important because when a government spends money—not necessarily this one—it tends to spend money year after year without ever looking back as to whether that expenditure is correct in the first place.”
Talt said that information technology, or IT, expenditures should be halted for all departments until the city receives IT requests for proposal during the upcoming year.
In the city council department, Talt called for the elimination of a $1,800 expense to participate in the U.S. Council of Mayors annual conference. He claimed that only cities with a population of 30,000 or more could be members.
The cost of materials and supplies for the department should be maintained at the current level of $5,000 instead of the proposed $6,000 for the 2017-2018 budget, he requested.
For the administration department, Talt asked that $15,000 be redirected away from a membership with the 710 Coalition—an organization advocating for a freeway tunnel to connect the 710 to the 210—and to more productive ends.
“We should spend the money to get as much money as we can,” Talt said, recommending that the city should obtain Measure R county transportation funds to support the city’s infrastructure investment plan.
In the fire department, Talt said the city’s line item for the tri-city fire department command agreement should be reduced. San Marino Fire Chief Mario Rueda agreed that the item could be a third of the budgeted $3,000.
Talt also found a typo in the parks and public works department that reduced an $8,500 cost to an $850 cost. Public Works Director Dan Wall was able to answer several of Talt’s other questions, including questions about expenditures related to traffic signal timing.
Talt also requested that Wall take a closer look at shed roof repair at Lacy Park to eliminate a $1,000 roof replacement cost.
Talt spent a significant amount of time with the recreation department budget.
“When I see time of employees added to recreation, that concerns me,” he told Recreation Manager Rosa Pinuelas.
“I realize that some of this is safety [related], but do we need a maintenance assistant that is spending .03 [of his time] at special events, when we have other people on our staff at building and maintenance that do a lot of that,” Talt continued, encouraging Pinuelas to coordinate with public works to reduce employee time overlap in recreation.
“We don’t mind doing that. We always do that as much as we can because we have that [70 percent] recovery [requirement], so we want as much of a buffer from that 70 percent,” Pinuelas responding, adding that the department’s fulltime equivalents will decrease with elimination of the Tsunamis swimming program.
Talt’s questions resulted in several clarifications from the heads of the city’s departments, which helped to explain items that appeared to have vague descriptions.
City staff will incorporate Talt’s requests into the final draft of the budget. Other changes that were recommend by the council at budget hearings held in May include an increase in the fire department budget to incorporate the new union agreement, the deletion of half a position in the fire department, the deferral of a cost of service study, a reduction in the budget for police conferences, and additional appropriations via federal funds for sidewalk repairs.
The next city council meeting is on Friday, June 30 at 8 a.m. at San Marino City Hall.