Local News

Council to Discuss Federal Relief Funds and the Budget

City Council will hold a study session on September 14 at 4pm to discuss how to spend federal COVID relief funds and how this will impact the current fiscal year budget adopted in June.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Fullerton (like most cities) saw a reduction in revenue and staffing levels. In March 2020, for example, nearly all the part-time Parks and Rec employees were laid off as public programs organized by the department ceased.

This reduction of revenue and staff corresponds to a reduction in basic services. The budget passed by City Council in June included a deficit of approximately $10 million.

To offset these losses, Fullerton was allocated $32.67 million by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). These funds, which have not yet been factored into the budget, are intended to repair the economic damage of COVID-19. The City has received $16.33 million and will receive another $16.33 million next fiscal year.

ARPA rules allow for expenditures under several broad categories, including:

1. Support public health expenditures.

2. Address negative economic impacts of the pandemic.

3. Invest in sewer, water, and broadband infrastructure.

At an August 17 budget study session, staff presented different scenarios for how to offset the budget deficit that included use of ARPA funds, but also included vacancy savings (leaving positions unfilled), and making cuts of 2% and 5% from City departments.

The idea of additional cuts has further divided an already divided City Council, with initial support from Mayor Bruce Whitaker, Mayor Pro Tem Nick Dunlap, and Councilmember Fred Jung; and opposition from Councilmembers Jesus Silva and Ahmad Zahra.

During the August 17 study session, Councilmember Zahra spoke against making further cuts to the City’s workforce.

“Knowing that 70% of our services are labor-driven, it seems to me that prioritizing workforce really covers all of these departments. I think that should be where we focus,” Zahra said.

Mayor Pro Tem Dunlap, who supported the possibility of 2 to 5% workforce cuts, said, “I see it differently. The fundamental cornerstone of local government is public safety and infrastructure, so I would put those two tied for first place in my book.”

When scheduling the Sept 14 study session, Councilmember Zahra said he will not be able to attend due to prior commitments. The first meeting in September is usually not scheduled. Zahra’s absence will effectively leave District 5 unrepresented in these budget discussions.

During public comments at the August 17 study session, representatives of police and fire labor unions spoke against cuts to their departments.

John Miller, Vice President of the Fullerton Police Officers Association, said that Fullerton currently has 120 sworn officers, down about 40% from 2008, when it had about 168 officers. And yet, he said, calls for services are higher than at that time.

Dan Lancaster, president of Fullerton Firefighters Association, made a similar argument against cuts. He said that many firefighters are working overtime to make up for vacant positions.

“We expect the best from our employees—then we should treat them the best too,” community leader Egleth Nunnci said. “The American Rescue Plan is needed to rescue our staff.”

Dr. Jessie Jones, executive director of Center for Healthy Neighborhoods urged Council to use the ARPA funds for public safety and parks.

Local resident Bernard Oh, a frequent fixture at council meetings, spoke vehemently against cuts.

“City services are already compromised,” Oh said. “This council majority made big promises to fix our roads, improve public safety, and fix our parks without a sales tax, and yet all I’m seeing is just cuts to all these services…We’re losing experienced staff and having a hard time hiring in all departments–police, fire, library, and on and on. What are you doing?”

City departments have each submitted ARPA funding requests for City Council consideration.

How the City will use its federal relief funds, whether it will make more cuts, and the impact on city staffing and service levels will be the topic of discussion at the September 14 Budget Study Session.

Council will also discuss financial forecasts into the next 5 to 10 years, as ARPA money provides only a temporary relief to balance the budget over the medium term.

You may provide public comment remotely by phone or online via Zoom or live in-person. Visit www.cityoffullerton.com/participate to learn more about how you can provide a comment during the meeting.