City Launches Community Meetings to Address Budget Deficit

City officials started community outreach this week, asking the public’s help in solving budget gap. Photo by Steve Whitmore

The first of two community meetings was held Wednesday night at the South Pasadena Community Room to discuss the budget deficits the city is facing over the next five years coupled with the immediate challenge of closing a gap for this coming year that could reach more than $1 million.

The City Council gave its unanimous approval at its Feb. 20 meeting to develop a plan to include the public in budget discussions that may require cuts to some important services. The city is also looking at ways to raise revenues by increasing or adding taxes, like increasing the sales tax or adding a public safety parcel tax.

City officials have planned for at least two town hall-type meetings that will encourage the public to participate. Also, they will be taking their budget deliberations to various community groups such as Rotary, Kiwanis and Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Action (WISPPA), to name just a few.

City officials explained the necessity for the public’s inclusion in the budget deliberations in a recent staff report to the City Council.

“Staff recommends a robust community engagement program to review all potential options, identify preferred alternatives, and inform future strategies.,” the report states. “A financial model will be presented to the community establishing the baseline gap for each year and outlining the potential budget impact of a variety of budget cuts and revenue enhancements, allowing residents to test a variety of options and scenarios. Through the community engagement process, staff anticipates gaining perspective on those options, or combination of options, that receive the greatest support from the community. That feedback will then be used to guide the development of a long-range Financial Sustainability Plan to be presented to Council as part of the annual budget in June.” The city’s fiscal year runs from June 30, 2019, to July 1, 2020.

Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian weighed in publicly regarding the budget and the importance of including the public during a recent City Council meeting.

“I want to point out a couple of things,” said Khubesrian. “This is a very robust budget-information-to-the-community proposal. Of note, this is a first for our City Council. It’s the first I’ve seen since I’ve been on the council to have the outreach plan laid out in such a thorough manner, so everything looks predictable and transparent and the community knows what to expect and where they can go to hear the information that staff will present about our budget, any shortfalls and opportunities for increased revenues.”

The community meeting Wednesday started at 7 p.m. at South Pasadena’s Public Library Community Room, 1115 El Centro St. The next community meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 24, at the Senior Center, 1102 Oxley St.

“Our goal is not just to balance the next budget or two, but to consider the long-term financial sustainability of the City,” DeWolfe said in a prepared statement issued by the city announcing the community meetings. “We want to create a sustainable system for decades to come.”

DeWolfe goes on to explain the importance of the community’s involvement in this process. The city has to finalize its fiscal year (FY) 2019-2020 balanced budget by June 30.

“The City’s long-range budget forecast shows increased deficits during the next five years,” DeWolfe said. “During those workshops, residents will be asked to provide input on potential options to close the anticipated budget gap. No decisions will be made immediately. City staff will return to Council with recommendations based on the input received during the public outreach. The focus will be on long-range financial health. The City has historically managed its budgets conservatively. The projected budget increases are driven by two primary factors: strategic investment in City infrastructure, and increased costs of pension obligations.”

DeWolfe cites the increased spending on South Pasadena’s infrastructure such as street repairs and water infrastructure, which included replacing three older reservoirs, as a major cause for the deficit.

City officials also identified nearly $100 million in what they characterized as “critical infrastructure spending needs, with funding identified for just half of the projects.”

And then you add the CalPERS liabilities, which also are projected to increase over the next few years, and the deficit has to be managed now, not later, DeWolfe said.

“By addressing the budget issues proactively, we can begin to create new revenue streams,” she said. “Throughout March we will present options to the community and ask residents to help us prioritize.”