It’s wisely said that your budget—whether household, business or government—reflects your priorities.
The Pleasanton City Council has conducted budget workshops with staff the last two months and is scheduled to approve a two-year spending plan in June for the fiscal year starting July 1. Deliberations to date make you wonder about the priorities of the majority of the council.
Pleasanton Vice Mayor Jack Balch, an accountant by training, has been raising the alarm about spending to no avail. He’s questioned what he considered discretionary spending for a new skate park ($6.4 million) as well as repairs and upgrades to the historic Century House last year that has been closed for eight years.
Mayor Karla Brown blew off his concerns saying that the skate park decision has been made and should not be reconsidered.
Really, Mayor Brown. Must be nice to bat 1.000 on decisions and never have to rethink one.
The same council has deferred decisions about how to deal with PFAS chemical contamination above the state limit in one of the city’s three wells. The wells provide 20% of the water during summer months. The council approved a staff plan that amounted to a bandage to operate two other wells with PFAS below the state limits so it could eliminate a 15% drought cutback and meet anticipated water demand on hot days this summer.
Any urgency about providing a necessary service such as water compared to a recreational amenity? Priorities?
The city has enlisted a consultant to explore various options for the wells and water supply after the council balked at a $46 million plan for a treatment plant and new wells. With the Zone 7 Water agency, the city’s wholesale supplier, also exploring other long term options to diversify the water supply because 80% of it in a normal year comes through the State Water Project. The majority of this council, before Jeff Nibert was elected, quit participating in a joint study with valley agencies. Fortunately, the Zone 7 board is proceeding without financial contributions from its customers. The same trio also voted to fully fund restoration of Century House repairs and upgrades at $4.8 million, by taking $2 million out of the rainy day fund, arguing the reserves were healthy enough.
The other part of Balch’s underlying concern are the budget forecasts provided by city Finance Director Susan Hsieh. The current two-year plan is balanced by dipping into reserves and deferring projects, but falls into the red in the out years. That’s particularly challenging if the state goes into a recession. Two years out, a recession could result in a shortfall of $10 million the projections show. It gets worse after that and could hit $16 million in the 10th year.
Pleasanton’s situation is what cities and the state are facing. Some economists have been predicting the Federal Reserve’s tightened interest rates will trigger a recession—people are feeling the inflation at the grocery store but the country is not formally in a recession. California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst believes the state’s shortfall this year is $6 billion more than the governor estimated and it could soar if a recession hits.
If you read about the vacant downtowns in San Francisco and the impending refinancing of commercial office buildings at both substantially higher rates and diminished values, it’s no time to be betting on the come. That same dynamic could hit Pleasanton—major office complexes are up for sub-lease in Hacienda Business Park.
This is a season for priorities not “nice-to-haves.”