Marin Voice: City of Novato continues to spend without a plan

The Progressives running Novato in Marin County think the public is stupid—they are spending like a drunk sailor and expect the taxpayers to increase taxes to finance the out of control spending.

“Most people figured that the quarter-cent sales tax increase passed in 2015, rather than a half-cent tax, required careful budgeting by the city, but this has not happened. The City Council majority has been voting for increased spending without a plan for more than three years.

It is important for residents to get relevant information about the growing deficit and sustainable budget options now. The upcoming budget workshop, from 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 30 at the Margaret Todd Senior Center, is near the start of planning for the new budget. Do you favor new taxes or cutting expenses or both? You may not get a choice and there may be no opportunity for actual discussion.

Hearings with no real discussion.  Spending than forcing tax increases  This is how totalitarian governments act—take it or we take it from you.  Corruption—that is the Novato City Council (or at least a majority).  Does your town spend like this than cry it needs money?

Pension money

Marin Voice: City of Novato continues to spend without a plan

Pam Drew, Novato City Council., Marin Independent,  3/25/19

The Novato City Council is backing residents into a corner with no exit except additional taxes.

Most people figured that the quarter-cent sales tax increase passed in 2015, rather than a half-cent tax, required careful budgeting by the city, but this has not happened. The City Council majority has been voting for increased spending without a plan for more than three years.

It is important for residents to get relevant information about the growing deficit and sustainable budget options now. The upcoming budget workshop, from 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 30 at the Margaret Todd Senior Center, is near the start of planning for the new budget. Do you favor new taxes or cutting expenses or both? You may not get a choice and there may be no opportunity for actual discussion.

Our administration has become top-heavy. We cannot afford to make all the limited-term staff permanent employees. We will be forced to sell historical properties unless the council majority cuts programs and/or staff. Our Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) cost is going up by an increasing percentage year after year (13 percent increase this year). We are wallowing in denial.

For Phase I of the downtown SMART station, we were already using installments but the $2.1 million cost overrun for Phase II took a sledgehammer to the budget. We were even poised to guarantee the Novato Theater’s $3 million line of credit. I formally proposed a fiscal sustainability plan update as an agenda item for the second time in April 2017. The update has not been done. We continue to spend without a plan.

Two other major moves increased expenses. The Cathy Capriola (former interim city manager) budget (2016-17) added nine full-time equivalents (staff) and the first City Manager Regan Candelario budget (2017-18) added five FTEs. Capriola’s five-year forecast cumulative budget deficit was $3.3 million using a 2.85 percent salaries escalator and 3.4 percent property tax escalator. Mr. Candelario’s five-year forecast (baseline 2017-18) last year showed only a $600,000 cumulative deficit using a 0 percent salaries escalator and a 4 percent property tax escalator (very optimistic), but when figured again with a 3 percent salaries escalator (moderate) his cumulative deficit was $6.8 million. That scenario finally came out just before the budget was passed last June, too late to have any impact.

I had complained bitterly about this 0 percent escalator, slipped into the packet on April 10, 2018, but my concerns were ignored. Now this year in preparing the five-year forecast (2018-19 baseline), Mr. Candelario proposed a 0 percent salary escalator, a 0.5 percent non-salary expense escalator, and a 4 percent property tax escalator (even more optimistic than last year). Just using a more realistic expense escalator (non-salary and salary) of 3 to 3.5 percent instead of 0 to 0.5 percent gives a cumulative deficit of about $15 million over five years. Mr. Candelario can provide that scenario to the people.

The city of Novato has historically run lean. Running lean does not include spending $4.6 million in local funds for the downtown SMART station. Subsequent to sinking funds into SMART, no steps were taken to curb expenses and no specific plan was advanced.

Since the 2015-16 budget, the city of Novato has drawn down various reserves including Measure F sales tax revenue to cover the shortfalls. Revenue from Measure F, approved in 2010, is almost gone.

The last budget produced by City Manager Michael Frank (2015-16) had 194 full-time equivalent staff members. Five or six months later, voters granted a quarter-cent sales tax increase instead of the half-cent sales tax counted on by Mr. Frank, and elected two newcomers, Josh Fryday and myself over incumbent Jeanne MacLeamy. The city manager resigned.

The message of the election was to “live within your means” and to shake up the council and administration. Today we have 208 FTEs. The message of election 2015 has been ignored. It is as if Michael Frank were calling for another tax measure. A tax measure still takes four votes out of five from the council.

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.