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Residents weigh in at community budget meeting

Claremonters were given a first-hand look at the upcoming budget for the next two years on Monday, as well as an opportunity to weigh in.

About 26 residents filed into the Padua Room at the Hughes Center to hear city officials talk about the upcoming two-year budget, which runs from 2018-2020. City Manager Tara Schultz told those in attendance the quest to craft the budget began in January.

“This budget workshop is your opportunity to give us your feedback on what you think should be included,” she said.

The plan is to create a balanced budget, along with input from city staff and residents, and bring it forward to the city council in June for possible adoption.

The city is required to present a balanced budget to the council, Ms. Schultz said.

But this budget process will include a couple more items that may make things difficult—the city has to include annual payments to Golden State Water Company per the agreement in last year’s settlement, and growing personnel costs related to CalPERS—a public employee pension system which is facing an underfunding crisis in many California communities—must also be included.

Claremont must pay GSW $234,040 each year for the next 12 years, and is also on the hook for its own legal fees of about $6.1 million.

Finance Director Adam Pirrie presented an overview of the budget, which included informing residents about the different types of revenue funds and what the overall budget was for each department, including police, community services and community development.

According to Mr. Pirrie, the total adopted budget in Claremont is $48.8 million, of which $25.3 million is in the General Fund, which is the most flexible of the funds.

Of the $25,450,745 in general fund revenues, the majority (36 percent) comes from property taxes, followed by utility users tax (17 percent), sales and use tax (17 percent), charges for services, transient occupancy taxes and other miscellaneous charges (both at 6 percent), and four other taxes and charges at 3 percent each.

Expenditures in the general fund are a little lower, clocking in at about $25,349,713. Broken down, 44 percent of this pays for police, 20 percent pays for administration, 13 percent for community development, 10 percent for human services, seven percent for community services and six percent for transfers out.

When Sue Keith asked Mr. Pirrie about reserve balances in the general fund, he noted that it stands at $5.4 million, which is below the 25 percent threshold required. The reason for that, he said, was because of a $2 million up front payment to Golden State Water Company in December as part of the settlement agreement.

“That’s taken our reserve balance below the threshold that the reserve requires,” he said.

Mr. Pirrie did note some initial shortfalls of about $1.4 million in 2018-2019 and $2.1 million in 2019-2020. He said these were “fairly typical” shortfalls that may force the city to re-examine the way they deliver services to residents and businesses.

Some ways to get rid of the shortfalls, he said, included limiting funding for new programs or looking for other sources for those programs.

“If ultimately we are unable to resolve those deficits at the staff level throughout the typical budget development process, there’s also the possibility of returning to the council and community to help us consider changes in the way that we deliver services in order to balance that budget,” Mr. Pirrie said.

The audience, who were split into several round tables of six or seven people, were then given a worksheet asking for input of what they would want to see reflected in the budget.

Residents were given a fictional $100 and told to split it up among several different aspects within each department—including police, community services and human services. Numbers standing in for actual budget figures were listed under each section, and Claremonters were given the option of keeping the status quo or reconfiguring the allocation. 

Each table had a city employee, from Community Services Director Roger Bradley to Claremont Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen, answering questions and providing guidance to residents.

Zach Courser said he would like to see more funding available for the Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program (CHAP) and sustainability. CHAP, he said, presented a “Cost-effective way” of dealing with a growing homeless problem in Claremont as well as Los Angeles County.

Jim Keith wanted the city to take a larger look at youth activities, especially when it comes to transporting kids who don’t have the means to get to programs around town.

Mary Stoddard and John Faranda both wanted Claremont Heritage to be included in the budget, noting the Heritage board has the know-how to create a preservation ordinance that would save the city time and money.

A few Claremonters were there to ask for more funding for Sustainable Claremont, which put out an all-points bulletin earlier on Monday to ask for increased funding to $50,000 per year.

If granted, the money would increase the Sustainability Resource Center’s operating hours to five days a week and help the group achieve the goals of the sustainable city plan, according to a Sustainable Claremont email.

“The things it offers to the city are well beyond what it takes in funding,” Rachel Forester said.

At the end of the workshop, city staffers collected the worksheets so they could be considered during the budget process. The city is aiming to present the budget to the council this summer.

—Matthew Bramlett