Sep 3 2011

Tax Committee Urges City Council to Act and Also Bring Community Together

Unanimous report released with additional thoughts from each Committee member

Before adopting their final report on Wednesday, August 31, the Municipal Tax Review Committee (MTRC) members threw roses” of compliments and praise to their colleagues and City staff for six months of intensive research, analysis, projections and recommendations on Piedmont’s current and future financial condition. 

Many of the rosy plaudits, however, contained thorns intended to prick the City Council into taking actions  to protect the City from falling into debt, cutting essential City services, and losing a two-thirds vote to renew the City’s parcel tax.

The Committee’s  report and extensive recommendations will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Before summing up the report, Committee Chair Mike Rancer gave each of his 8 Committee members and City staff a chance to speak.

Eric Lindquist directed his comments squarely at Councilman Jeff Wieler, MTRC Council liaison, who wrote in a recent Piedmont POST column that the City is in “terrific financial shape.”  Lindquist said the comment undercut the work of the MTRC, since after months of studying City finances, no one on the Committee would say the City is in terrific shape. City reserves have fallen nearly 50% in the last five years, he said, and the City’s current financial path is unsustainable. “There are storm clouds on the horizon,” he noted.

Weiler responded that he was not referring to Committee members, but, “There is a lot of negativity in the City.”  Compared to other cities, he said, Piedmont is in great shape. He agreed financial issues need to be addressed, but added, “I don’t know of any other city in northern California that’s in the shape we’re in.”

Robert McBain said he hopes the City doesn’t think it cannot take on new projects.  “It would be unfortunate, if we don’t think we can do better,” he said.

Steven Hollis said the parcel tax is an essential part of City revenue until property tax revenues recover (to previous levels). “It’s disheartening,” he said, “that so many people have lost confidence in City officials that they would vote against the parcel tax.”

Tam Hege urged the City to hire a benefits analyst to examine city employee fringe benefits. Commenting that she thinks the City pool “can be turned into a positive,” she added, “I’m not against new things. I just want to know what they will cost 10 years from now. Planning is very important.”  As the only woman on the Committee, she said she hopes there are more women on the next MTRC.

David Brown said, “I don’t like the financial condition of the City now.  Nine [committee members] have identified what the Council needs to do.  It’s incumbent to get the message out that we have problems, but here’s what we’re doing.”

Stating that, “A sense of community and coming together is critical,” Steve Weiner said, “I am one who doesn’t have faith in the Council.  I don’t see the Council listening [to the public] or being open-minded. They are not good at learning from their mistakes.  After 18 months, we still don’t have a full understanding of the undergrounding problems.  The Council should try to bring the community together. It can — and has to — do better.”

Ryan Gilbert said he hopes a city-wide vote on increasing the sewer tax (scheduled for February 2012 ) is not delayed. He added, “I hope the Council recognizes that public participation is number one in Piedmont.”

Council member and MTRC liaison John Chiang said that of all the MTRC’s he has been involved in, “This one takes the cake for talent, dialog, and getting to the heart of issues, which makes it easier for the Council.”  Regarding the Council’s Undergrounding Audit Subcommittee on which he served, he said, “It isn’t the Committee’s responsibility to fix the problem. It’s up to the staff and the Council.”

City Administrator Geoff Grote commented that the MTRC recommendation to set aside money for ongoing equipment maintenance and replacement is very important.  “It changes the dialog in the City,” he said, “because you have less money than you thought.”

Grote warned that if any current controversial issues, such as Blair Park or the City pool, becomes a “litmus test” for passing the parcel tax vote, “a two-thirds vote may be unrealistic. If the tax fails,” he said, “programs will be cut, and police, fire and paramedic services could be casualties, as well as the programs you object to.”  He, too, urged the Council “to get enough direction so people will come together.”

Committee Chair Michael Rancer thanked Piedmont residents for bringing issues to the Committee and said he hopes the City continues to make the MTRC meetings public through broadcasts on KCOM

“How do we live within the [parcel] tax is the thrust of our report,” he said.  “Four of our 9 members have expectations [of the Council] before they will support the tax, and I will be watching the Council very closely.”  Given the MTRC’s extensive list of recommendations for financial policy changes and reforms, Rancer urged the Council to delay the parcel tax vote until next June or November.

Link:  Full Report



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