City Council budget bickering – and heated rhetoric – intensifies the political rift.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
After Jersey Shore and The Bachelor, the newest reality TV show could be Marina City Hall. The chamber is rife with drama as the deeply divided council haggles over the city’s out-of-whack budget and potential tax hikes in an election season.
Marina racked up a $4.9 million deficit in the 2009-10 fiscal year. So when the proposed 2010-11 budget was presented in May, Mayor Bruce Delgado was disappointed to see expenditures only $100,000 trimmer than last year’s. (Employee concessions later shaved off another $50,000.)
“The situation’s becoming more and more dire with that sort of deficit spending, so this year I expected we’d see some significant reductions,” Delgado says.
On June 22, Delgado complained that a motion to approve the recommended budget “includes zero direction and zero changes to a 300-page budget for the second year in a row… We’re elected to review what staff does and give them direction.”
Councilman Dave McCall, who’s running for mayor in November (Delgado is still deliberating a re-run), replied, “That’s bullshit! Excuse me, but that isn’t right. You’re supposed to be a little more neutral.”
McCall’s B-bomb follows former mayor Gary Wilmot’s June 8 tizzy, when he told Delgado, “If you were in Vietnam, you would have been shot in the back of the head.”
The council voted 3-2 to reject the proposed budget and consider other cuts, pitting Delgado, Frank O’Connell and Ken Gray against McCall and Jim Ford.
Swing-voter Gray sided with McCall and Ford, however, on putting a 1-percent sales tax hike before voters in November, which if approved would raise about $1.8 million. But the support of three councilmen isn’t enough; it needs a 4-1 council majority to land on the ballot.
The split inverts the typical liberal and conservative positions on taxing and spending. Lefties O’Connell and Delgado say they can’t support new taxes unless the city tightens its own belt, while right-leaning McCall and Ford supported passing the proposed budget without significant cuts and putting the tax hikes on the ballot.
Another November ballot measure, a hotel tax hike of 2 percent, would raise about $250,000 per year.
“The logic of asking stressed citizens to cough up $2.1 million and still leaving half our deficit doesn’t add up to me,” Delgado says.
But McCall says the tax measures are needed “so people can tell us what they want to do with the current level of service.”
The city’s been tapping general use funds, mostly land sales from the former Ford Ord, to close its budget gap. Officials were looking at a roughly $4 million deficit for 2010-11, but shifted over $6.8 million in general use funds and, voilà, ended up with a $2.8 million proposed surplus.
“It’s triggering this to be a net gain,” says Finance Director Lauren Lai.
One-time cash pots will empty quickly at this rate, says Delgado, who feels land sales should finance permanent downtown infrastructure, not ongoing operating expenses.
On June 29, after almost four hours of deliberation, the council voted 4-1, with O’Connell dissenting, to adopt the budget as is – but to also require staff to come back in 30 days with $800,000 more in reductions, putting the city on course for a balanced budget within five years.
The council is expected to reconsider the sales tax hike July 7.
“It remains to be seen how it will work out, and if people are willing to compromise,” Gray says. “This is politics. Everybody’s thinking about the upcoming election.”