Lafayette brings balanced 2014-15 budget to table
By Lou Fancher Correspondent San Jose Mercury News
The city's proposed 2014-15 city budget showed a small anticipated surplus of $16,000, but city officials forecast that balanced budgets will be hard to achieve in future years.
After over an hour of discussion, the City Council on Tuesday scheduled a public hearing for the proposed budget at its June 9 meeting. The budget also could be adopted that night.
Administrative Services Director Tracy Robinson said some general fund money is being used to balance the budget, including drawing $1.5 million from reserves, primarily to pay for the city's purchase of the old library. This leaves the city with a reserve fund of about $6.2 million, 49 percent of the general fund budget -- below the council's target of 60 percent.
An earlier version of the 2014-15 budget showed a deficit of nearly $200,000, but subsequent adjustments -- including proposed reductions of public works maintenance expenses -- eliminated that deficit.
Cost increases are projected to grow more severe by 2016, according to a budget report prepared by Robinson and City Manager Steven Falk. The main culprits: escalating property crimes and deteriorating roads.
A 33 percent increase in property crimes over the past two years prompted police Chief Eric Christensen to request a full-time detective replace a part-time officer, at a total cost of $206,000 to the city. The reclassification of a parking enforcement officer to assist with police services, the chief's second request, would come at a cost of $46,000.
Additional budget increases came from the conversion of a temporary senior transportation coordinator to a permanent, part-time position ($20,000) and additional reserves ($60,000) would go to pay to help retire stormwater pollution bond debt.
A request for $50,000 from the Downtown Creeks Restoration, Preservation and Development committee generated a half-dozen public comments Tuesday. Citizens, including representatives of the creeks group, suggested early action to improve access and preserve the creek's integrity would prevent higher long-term costs. Council members asked commissioners from the group to present an updated design plan proposal and work with city staff in the engineering and planning departments to develop a more concrete outline of a creek plan.
In related business, newly hired Financial Services Director Jennifer Wakeman presented results from using the new California Municipal Fiscal Health Diagnostic Tool to determine the city's financial health.
Falk said the tool had been developed "because cities were unaware of the true condition of their finances." Wakeman said the city's 11 "green" (healthy) ratings and two "yellow" (caution) ratings in 13 key indicators are evidence of Lafayette's current fiscal soundness. Deficits in the General Fund reserves and decreasing projected reserves over multiple consecutive years -- situations revealed by the study tool -- were red flags, but critical indicators for future planning, according to Wakeman.