Whittier City Manager Jeff Collier spoke at the most recent City Council meeting to provide a 2018-2019 mid-year budget update, as well as an update from the Fiscal Sustainability Ad Hoc Committee. The report presented at the meeting primarily analyzed the revenue and spending from July to December of 2019. Discussion about the rising California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) costs continues to be a centerpiece of budgetary discussions.
As Sustainable City previously reported, the City is a few years away from running out of reserves, meaning they will have to seek alternative funding sources to pay CalPERS, and keep the budget balanced. According to the Committee, the total reserve funds available as of June 2019 were $3,039,000, but the 2019-2020 fiscal year is expected to create a deficit of $3,609,000, and is projected to continue to grow to approximately $5,605,000 in 2022-23.
Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri asked Director of Administrative Services Rod Hill about the status of the reserve fund, as compared to other cities. “The people of Whittier need to know that we work real hard to keep the reserves for a rainy day,” Vinatieri said. Hill replied that Whittier is about average, “You’re healthy, but you’re not above average.”
In order to prevent an unbalanced budget, the Committee identified a potential sales tax as a source of revenue. The sales tax could be placed on the ballot as soon as 2020, with the Committee recommending a 20-year minimum. “A 0.5% increase in the sales tax rate would generate approximately $5,000,000 annually, and a 0.75% increase would generate $7,500,000 annually,” the report reads.
Despite growing concerns about the deficit, Hill said at the meeting, “every one of your main revenues are on course, they’re consistent with our projections, so we have no concerns.” According to the report, the City is currently “designing, bidding, and implementing over $50 million in capital improvement projects.”
Ongoing projects budgeted for this fiscal year include the new Uptown parking structure, expansion of the Greenway Trail, renovations to the Uptown Streetscape, and lighted crosswalks. The parking structure is expected to be designed solar ready, and capable of having electric vehicle charging stations put in place, should funding become available down the line.
“Some of the highest infrastructure costs are, in fact, bringing about access to solar [panels] and to charging stations,” said Councilman Fernando Dutra, “because we’re planning on doing the infrastructure underground, we’re carrying most of the costs.” Dutra believes, with the infrastructure already in place, the City may attract businesses to put in panels and charging stations.
Additionally, several park renovations and updates are underway. In October, the City received a $1.4 million grant from State Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon, which will affect six parks across the City. Broadway park’s new playground will commence construction as part of a partnership with KaBOOM! in early March.
The City Council will meet May 7, 2019 to discuss the 2019-2020 budget.
This story is reprinted from Sustainable City’s free newsletter available online at www.sustainablecity.co/