City Council Report March 2014
by Ann Chandler, Piedmont League of Women Voters Council Observer
As we greet a new City Administrator, a new mayor, and a new Council in March 2014, we should take a moment to look back at two years of important work by the previous City Council. In November 2011, Council member John Chiang created a matrix of suggestions made by the City Council Audit Subcommittee (which had looked at the utilities undergrounding project that had gone $2 million over budget), The League of Women Voters Task Force on Governance (originally formed following the same utilities undergrounding fiasco), and the Municipal Tax Review Committee (which had concluded that the municipal services parcel tax was important but that there were many policy improvements the Council should make before asking voters to renew the parcel tax). Altogether, there were over 30 suggestions in these 3 reports, many of them overlapping.
In February 2012, John Chiang was elected mayor and the next month the City Council appointed a Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee (5 residents) to look at the city’s annual budget, its 5-year projections, and its funding for long-term capital projects, equipment replacement, and facilities maintenance/replacement. The committee also reviews any new commitments in excess of $250,000 in one fiscal year, comments on the Finance Director’s Mid-Year report to the Council in January, and meets again April through June each year as the budget is being finalized for the fiscal year starting in July. As approved, the committee will end on June 30, 2015 unless extended.
In April 2012, the Council rescinded its 2011 approval of the Blair Park project, which ended the suit against the City brought by Friends of Moraga Canyon. (The litigation which the City brought against two engineering companies involved in the Piedmont Hills Utilities Undergrounding is still pending.)
One of the strongest themes in the Municipal Tax Review Committee’s suggestions, taken up by the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee, was a need to gain control over personnel costs, particularly the cost of fringe benefits. The first step in that direction occurred in June 2012 when the Council approved a new “Tier 2” of miscellaneous employees hired after August 3, 2012. We now have 3 Tiers of miscellaneous employees, and 3 Tiers of safety employees, meaning 6 different retirement and benefit packages. Control of personnel costs is still a large issue.
In July 2012, an Athletics Facilities Preservation Fund was established. It charges sports clubs (but not school teams) for use of city and school sports facilities. The income from this fund alone is not enough to maintain or replace athletic facilities, but creation of the fund was one step toward addressing the subject of athletic facilities preservation.
In December 2012, the City contracted with Janae Novotny, a lawyer specializing in public employee negotiations, to represent the city in all labor negotiations beginning in January, 2013. A year later the city completed four-year contracts with all bargaining groups. There were raises for the first time in four years, but also increased deductions for benefits.
In January 2013, the city started development of a long-term Facilities Maintenance Program identifying needs, cost estimates, and potential funding sources. In June the document received final approval.
It is a 5-year plan looking at what needs to be done in fiscal years 2013-2017 to sewers, sidewalks, streets, buildings, parks, fields, etc. Although flexible, the plan gives a priority to each project within each facility, and a suggested time table. The exception to this is the Aquatics Facility. Although there is a list of things that need to be done, there are no cost estimates, no potential funding sources, and no timetable, leaving one to wonder what is next for the pool.
It was also in January 2013 that the first draft of a Risk Management Policy for Major Capital Projects came before the Council. The League of Women Voters Task Force on Governance was one of the groups that had recommended this, and the Task Force and League board members made comments and written suggestions on several drafts of this policy during 2013. In January 2014, Piedmont adopted a Risk Management Policy for Major Capital Projects.
One of the suggestions of the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee was that the city refinance the PERS Side Fund at a lower interest rate. Piedmont’s charter requires a vote of the people to do that. In the February 4, 2014 municipal election, the electorate gave the City Council overwhelming approval (82.6%) to refinance the Side Fund. Final discretion as to whether and when to do such a refinancing rests with the newly elected City Council.
In many ways it seems that an effort has been made to get Piedmont’s fiscal and legal house in order before proceeding with any large, creative new projects. This work has been started but not completed.
Controlling personnel costs is a long-range project, very much influenced by trends in the rest of the Bay Area and the state. But over the past two years, Mayor Chiang and City Administrator Geof Grote, both of whom left their positions in February, took these important steps to put Piedmont on the right path.
Reprinted from the Piedmont League of Women Voters bulletin,“The Voter”, with permission
Editors’ Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.