Sebastopol City Council gets first look at draft city budget

By Laura Hagar Rush, Sebastopol Times, June 24, 2022

Sebastopol City Council wrap up

Councilmembers present at the meeting included Mayor Patrick Slayter, Vice Mayor Neysa Hinton and Councilmembers Sarah Gurney and Diana Rich. Councilmember Una Glass was on vacation.

At the June 21 council meeting Sebastopudlians got their first look at the city’s draft budget for fiscal year 22-23. But before they did, there were a few proclamations and public hearings to enjoy.

Thank you for your service

The city issued certificates of appreciation to outgoing planning commissioner Zachary Douch and longtime Sebastopol Police dispatcher Tracy Peters, who retired on June 11.

Consent Calendar

(Note: The consent calendar consists of items that are routine in nature or don’t require additional discussion, often because they’ve been discussed extensively at a previous council meeting.)

In addition to approving the minutes of past meetings, the city council approved the following items on the consent calendar:

  • Approval of direction to city agencies to review the Conflict-of-Interest Code.
  • An extension of the proclamation of Existence of a Local Homeless Emergency, which needs to be approved every 60 days.
  • Authorization of a Planning Internship Program with Sonoma State University
  • Approval of a consultant, Opticos Design Inc., and an authorization to execute a contract for Objective Design Standards. This is in reaction to SB 35, which, in an attempt to increase the amount of affordable housing and make an end-run around NIMBY objections to development, requires cities to replace subjective design guidelines with objective standards, particularly for multifamily residential development.

Regular Agenda Items and Public Hearings

New library rep. The council’s first action on the regular agenda was to appoint Fred Engbarth as the Sebastopol representative to the Sonoma County Library Commission. Many kind words were said about Mr. Engbarth and everyone was thrilled he was willing to take on this position.

Rates for, um, everything going up. Before the city council got to the meat of the evening, there were two short public hearings about rate increases from Recology and the Sebastopol Lighting Assessment District (SLAD). A planned hearing on the Capital Improvement Program was shifted to the next council meeting on July 5.

  • Recology rate increase. Technically, this is called a rate adjustment, but as rates never seem to do anything but go up – something noted by several councilmembers – we decided to call a spade a spade. After much hemming and hawing about this reality, the council acquiesced to the rate increase, voting 4-0. Both residential and commercial users will see their waste bill rise between 12-13%. According to the staff report, starting on July 1, 2022, “the 32-gallon residential cart rate will increase by 12.4% or $2.93, and the 4-yard commercial bin will increase by 12.8% or $68.37.”
  • Streetlighting assessment. As discussed at the previous meeting, the city engineer recommended a streetlighting assessment of $32 for the upcoming fiscal year, an increase of $7 from the previous year. The council approved this assessment 4-0.

First look at the City of Sebastopol Draft Budget for Fiscal Year 22-23

Budget Basics: According to the staff report on the budget process, “Each year, the city must forecast the revenues it will receive and the expenditures it will incur for the upcoming fiscal year. (The fiscal year for the city of Sebastopol begins July 1 and ends June 30.) The resulting official document is known as the municipal budget and is a policy document that guides the operations of the city and is also a reflection of the community’s priorities.”

According to the report, here’s how it gets made:

  • Department heads submit their requested budgets for the upcoming year to the Administrative Services Department;
  • The Budget Committee reviews and discusses department heads requests with input and recommendations from the city manager and city staff in publicly held meetings;
  • The Budget Committee reviews and discusses Community Benefit Grant Applications for non-profit organizations in publicly held meetings, incorporating their recommendations into the departmental budgets.
  • The Budget Committee finalizes and forwards a draft budget to the full city council for discussion, deliberation, final allocations and adoption.

Draft budget summary. Administrative Services Director Ana Kwong gave a brief PowerPoint summary of the draft budget, noting that the city expected to get $11.45 million in revenue and to have $11.6 million in expenditures. That leaves a $156,000 deficit. The city will take $156,000 from its reserve to cover the difference.  That leaves a city reserve of $3.34 million, which is 28.8% of the overall budget, well above the recommended 15% reserve.

But wait, there’s more that needs to go into the budget. The 22-23 draft budget was introduced by the two members of the city council’s Budget Committee, Vice Mayor Neysa Hinton and Councilmember Diana Rich.

Councilmember Hinton emphasized that this initial version of the budget was only a draft, subject to change due to the following:

  • Ongoing negotiations with several city unions. Potential increases in salaries and benefits have not been figured into the initial draft budget.
  • A soon-to-be-released city staffing report.
  • And finally, where the city council comes down on a list of nine currently unbudgeted items on the “Citywide Discussion List.”

Most of the rest of the evening was devoted to exploring the public’s and councilmembers’ feelings about items on the Citywide Discussion list, which can be seen in the chart below, along with the requested amount for each item and the recommendation from the Budget Committee.

[Note: At this point the author must point out that she is a beneficiary of the second item on this list, since, in addition to editing and writing articles for The Sebastopol Times, she is a co-coordinator for Relaunch Sebastopol, the city’s economic development and community vitality program.]

Opinions on the Citywide Discussion List

There was strong public sentiment in favor of a grant writer for the city. Several members of the city’s Climate Action Committee – Woody Hastings, Kenna Lee, and Steve Pierce – spoke in favor the grant writer position, as did Jann Eyrich of the Main Street Roundtable, which has its eye on a large Caltrans grant to re-work downtown Sebastopol. Jim Wheaton also spoke in favor of the grant writer position and against the more than half-a-million-dollar increase requested by the police department. Council watcher Kyle Falbo, whose Zoom image is a pie chart of the city budget showing how the police budget dwarfs everything else – also objected to the requested increase in the police budget.

Here’s a quick rundown of the discussion on each item.

OUTREACH WORKER FOR THE UNHOUSED. This is a proposal to renew the existing contract with West County Community Services to provide an outreach work to the city’s homeless population. Mayor Patrick Slayter said he had “several lines in the water” with the county to reimburse the city for this position, possibly using Measure O monies. (Measure O was a county measure to combat homelessness and provide mental health services.) Cost: $75,000. Recommended by the budget committee.

RELAUNCH SEBASTOPOL: There is a proposal on the table to extend the existing Relaunch Sebastopol contract for three months (from March 2023 to the end of June 2023) to continue its work. The program seeks to spur economic development and increase community vitality in three ways: 1) By creating sophisticated marketing campaigns to increase tourism, support local business and attract new businesses to town.  2) By improving the look and allure of Sebastopol’s shopping districts. 3) By increasing community engagement through events and better communication so that residents know what’s going on in their town and how to get involved. Cost: $50,000. No recommendation from the budget committee, basically because the committee could not agree. Vice Mayor Hinton felt Relaunch should stand down after its year’s contract was complete, while Councilmember Diana Rich spoke in favor of continuing the contract an extra three months. Mayor Slayter and Councilmember Gurney, who are on the Relaunch Ad Hoc committee overseeing the project, also expressed an interest in seeing it continue.

SAFE PARKING. This funding request from the Ad Hoc Committee for the Unhoused would provide reimbursement for the expenses incurred by churches and other organizations or people who provide safe overnight parking for the unhoused. This fund would pay for things like increases in insurance premiums, costs of security cameras and exterior lighting, modifications to door locks (for access to interior bathrooms), and/or assistance with porta-potty rentals. Councilmember Sarah Gurney also suggested that it be organized such that citizens could contribute financially to this fund. Budget Request: $6,000. Budget Committee Recommendation: Support Request.

MAYORS AND COUNCILMEMBERS ASSOCIATION CLERK CONTRIBUTION. This organization, to which all of the mayors and councilmembers in the county belong, would like to hire a part-time clerk to handle administrative tasks. There seemed to be general agreement on the council that supporting this position would be a good idea. By volunteering to have Sebastopol act as the Fiscal Agent overseeing this position, Mayor Slayter said he reduced the required Sebastopol contribution by half.

PENSION TRANSFER: According to the staff report, pension liabilities are a concern for all governmental entities, “and it is proposed that the city set aside funding for anticipated increases in funding requirements for retirement. The set-aside amounts are intended to mitigate future CalPERS rate spikes.” Although only $30,000 was initially requested, the Budget Committee suggested moving $100,000 over to the fund for future pensions. Council member Hinton noted that the city has traditionally put $100,000 or more toward pensions per year, and that it only dipped below that last year because of COVID.

CITYWIDE GRANT WRITER. According to the staff report, “The Planning Department, Climate Action Committee, Ad Hoc Committee for the Unhoused, and members of the City Council have requested that funding be allocated for a grant writer … The concern expressed by those advocating for grant writer funding is that without dedicated grant writer funding, additional opportunities that will bring fiscal benefits to the city will be lost.” The initial request is for $60,000. The Budget Committee had no recommendation on this point.  According to Vice Mayor Neysa Hinton, this fund, which one speaker called a “no brainer,” will be used to hire several specialist grant writers, rather than a single generalist grant writer.

“I think this concept of a fund to retain specialists is really a beneficial one for this upcoming year because, as many of our speakers have said, there is money out there and we need to leverage ourselves to get that money,” said Councilmember Sarah Gurney. She then listed several areas which would benefit from specialized grant writers, including climate action, the aforementioned Caltrans grant, land acquisition for a park on the south end of town, and more.

COOLING CENTERS. Another request from the Committee on the Unhoused, this request would pay for supplies at warming and cooling centers. Councilmember Rich said this might include water, blankets, tents, refreshments, food, soup, sleeping bags, etc.  Mayor Slayter remarked that it was “a small dollar figure that could save some lives.”

FRONT DESK EXTENSION FOR CITY HALL. This construction project was pushed to the mid-year budget review.

POLICE DEPARTMENT STAFFING REQUEST. The Sebastopol Police Department is requesting to hire four new positions — a police officer, police technician, police dispatcher, and administrative assistant — at a cost of $696,000. Police Chief Kevin Kilgore, noting the over $300,000 in overtime paid out this year, said that because of illness and injury on his staff, he is having a hard time meeting the city’s goal of having at least two officers available 24/7. He said many of his officers are working seven or eight days in a row to maintain that level of staffing, and noted that that isn’t sustainable. The question seemed to be whether to go ahead with some of these hires – the dispatcher and a police officer – before the city releases its citywide staffing report. City manager Larry MacLaughlin noted that he’s been in favor of hiring an additional police officer for several years. Kilgore indicated he would be willing to forgo the administrative assistant.

See you on July 5th

Because of the budgetary uncertainties — particularly the city union negotiations — no decision was made on any of the items on the citywide discussion list — or on the budget in general. Instead, the council voted 4-0 to approve a resolution continuing the current fiscal year budget into the next fiscal year, and approving interim expenditures prior to adoption of the budget for fiscal year 2023. They also extended the public hearing on the budget to the July 5 council meeting.

You can find the draft budget at https://bit.ly/3nv2w2F