February 3, 2009

If there's any silver lining in WC's dismal budget report? More downtown parking?

Walnut Creek's City Council will be talking budget tonight, and the news isn't good. The city is facing a $3.4 million shortfall this year and a deficit of $5.2 million in 2009-10.

The Progress Report on the 2008-10 Operation budget reads:

"Last fall our country's economy experienced major events that underminded our collective financial security. Home foreclosures increased and home prices fell dramatically; car sales dropped preciptously; and economic activity, in general slowed. Local government activities are funded from various sources. In Walnut Creek, the three largest are sales tax, property tax, and fees and charges for services provided. All of these have been negatively affected by the economic downturn."

"Based on new information about our revenue sources, staff's preliminary revised estimate of revenue to the General Fund is aproximately $3.4 million (5.1%) lower for Fiscal year 2008-09 and $5.2 million lower (7.5%) for 2009-19 than the estimates contained in the 2008-10 adopted budget for the General Fund."

The city had adopted an operating budget for 2008-10 of around $136 million, which staff says was based on the best information available last spring, which projected only a mild recession in 2008-09 and a modest improvement for 2009-10.

No, this isn't good news for Walnut Creek. And, I don't mean to make light of any of this, because people's jobs and livelihoods are at stake. The new other Walnut Creek-based blogger, The DUBC has launched a "Buy Walnut Creek" campaign and cites some beloved locally owned businesses, stores and restaurants that have gone out of business. They include some of my favorites: Taxi's Hamburgers, Pinkys Pizza, and Bonanza Street Books.

But, yes, with consumer confidence down and people not spending as much on things they don't consider necessities, Walnut Creek's upscale retail scene is taking a hit. Which means, yes, it likely will be easier to park in downtown for a while, especially in terms of street parking. That benefit for all of us who have long complained about WC's parking crunch, of course, comes at a cost to city coffers and services upon which we rely.

With regard to parking, the report says: "Parking meter revenue is projected to be approximately $11,000 below what was estimated for the budget of 2008-09 and 2009-10, due to lower overall activity in the downtown area resulting from the downturn in the economy."

According to the Contra Costa Times report on the budget, to save money, the city is freezing five open positions for this fiscal year and six more in the next year. The city has also renegotiated lower rates for long-term disability and life insurance for employees and revised contributions for employee pensions.

The city will also look at the need to "involve the community" in finding solutions for balancing the budget. The report says: "Starting in March and continuing through May, Council members and staff would invite groups with common interests [business groups, arts organizations, environmental interest groups, social services, recreation organizations] to come together to hear about our budget situation and gain an understanding of the City's finances as a prelude to Community Conversations to be scheduled this fall."

(IMO, perhaps in involving the community city leaders could do a slightly better job than it did with regard to its Neiman Marcus approval process, which they kind of bungled, in their starry-eyed haste to bring this luxury retailer to Broadway Plaza. Yeah, yeah, city leaders will blame sneaky, unethical mall rivals for undermining their efforts to bring this prize of a department store to Walnut Creek, but those mall rivals were just tapping into what turned out to be some widespread concerns about the original Neiman Marcus proposal.)

The City Council meeting takes place at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 1666 N. Main Street. You can read more about the budget report in today's Contra Costa Times, or you can peruse the actual budget report here.


Barry said...

Even with NM, Walnut Creek will struggle for awhile. Who ever approved spending so much money on a library? Now that was dumb! What the City Council should have done was to somehow woo the 49ers, Raiders or A's to purchase some of our open space, build a stadium and create jobs! Just think of all the positive potential a sports team would bring to WC!!!

Anonymous said...

Some may call me pesamistic but I feel more realist. Not just Walnut Creek but all cities and towns are in financial debacle. The really sad part is that there is no dis-connect from the past. Business as usual ideas will not save us through this crisis because this crisis is unlike anything this country has suffered in decades.

You will not be able to tax your way out of the deficits because everyone is broke. Taxing works when people have money. Continued asking for more or looking to the Federal Government milking trough will not solve the problems this time around. It will actually make the problem worse.

We need to downsize our government, reduce staffing, and focus on true needs for a change. We will not be able to save everything this time around. It is what it is.

LeftOfCenter said...

If the city is not spending money, then we don't need to have city meetings and as many paid city workers.

In fact, if there are not as many meetings, should they draw the same salary?