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Walnut Creek Magazine

Budget Blues

Jul 07, 2020 02:14PM ● By Harper Klein

As the City Council grapples with a big dip in revenue, the proposed 2020-21 budget reflects steep cuts in services and staff. Like cities across California, Walnut Creek’s fiscal resources have taken a big hit since the pandemic began in March, as revenue streams across all economic sectors have dried up or drastically decreased.

City Manager Dan Buckshi has discussed falling revenue streams in his televised briefings during City Council meetings due to the shutdown of non-essential businesses, shrinking sales tax and hotel room tax flow into city coffers, and closure of the Lesher Center for the Arts. He said last week new estimates indicate COVID-19 impacts will reduce revenue in the 2020-21 fiscal cycle by $12.1 million. That means, of course, there is less money to spend on programs and services.

Though he noted that Walnut Creek is in better financial shape than many other cities right now, with close to $36 million in General Fund reserves after this budget cycle, much is earmarked for pension reserves. Buckshi added, “Reductions will strain our ability to maintain service levels and required some very difficult decisions.”

He pointed out that in early March the city was anticipating a $3 million surplus for FY2020, due to increased sales tax revenue estimated at $27.3 million pre-COVID19. Instead, it's projected to be down by over 45%, along with other General Fund revenue from ticket sales, program, and rental fees, as well as hotel tourism tax streams. City staff and the city council spent the last three months looking at every angle to make drastic reductions. The financial shrinkage will be seen across the board.

 Budget Cut Breakout by Sector FY2021

Personnel Costs 71% of the city’s proposed FY2021 budget, or $55.9 million, (down from $59.6 million), pays salaries, benefits, and hourly employee costs.

Department Directors & City Manager $100K in salary concessions as a group.

Part-Time Staff 130 positions eliminated equating to $1 million in budget savings.

Full-time Staff 28 positions are proposed to be reduced or eliminated in FY21, of which 27 are filled.  The total full-time equivalent (40-hour workweek) to be reduced is 19.25, resulting in a $2 million offset.

Early Retirement Incentive Eligible employees offered $25K to voluntarily leave positions before September 1, 2020. Applications exceed the number anticipated, a potential opportunity to offset the budget cuts.

Police Department $27.6 million proposed budget reduced by $900K to $26.7 million eliminates a vacant Lieutenant position, reduces services and supplies, but increases funding for citywide diversity and implicit bias training related to mental health responses. Currently, WCPD has 80 full-time uniformed officers and 20 volunteer officers on the force.

Arts & Recreation Big hit—$18.3 million budget reduced by $5.2 million to $13.1 million FY2021. The department funds Aquatics, Bedford Gallery, Boundary Oak Golf Course, Center for Community Arts, Public Art, and an array of classes, camps, and services for seniors.

Cuts include: staff reductions of 11.25 full-time employees including the Artistic Director position at Center Rep; reduction in number of art shows at Bedford from four to three; elimination of after school sports and gym rentals at Foothill Middle School; Larkey pool closure from September to March; Clarke Swim Center Sunday pool closure October to June; elimination of fall and winter rec swimming at Clarke, among other losses.

Library Hours Both the Walnut Creek and Ygnacio Valley libraries use county funds to operate 35 hours per week. An extra 17 hours was funded by city but cut from the budget-saving an estimated $567,000.

Community Groups A 14 % reduction ($79,000) in financial support to Lindsay Wildlife, Gardens at Heather Farm, WC Historical Society, Walnut Festival, school crisis counselors and crossing guards, along with other programs.

Administrative Services $4.8 budget cut by $200k to $4.6 million.

Community & Economic Development cut $671k from $8.4m to $7.37m

Public Works $1.9 million budget reduction, plus another $155K reduction in the Open Space fund for maintenance and landscape costs.

The Walnut Creek City Council adopted the new budget on July 7, 2020.

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