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  Richmond Officials Stare at Gaping Budget Hole, No Good Solutions
July 11, 2013

This devaluation of Richmond real estate makes no sense. Every source of information, other than the county assessor, cites significant price rises. For example, http://www.trulia.com/real_estate/Richmond-California/ states:
Average price per square foot for Richmond CA was $186, an increase of 29.2% compared to the same period last year. The median sales price for homes in Richmond CA for Mar 13 to May 13 was $225,000 based on 395 home sales. Compared to the same period one year ago, the median home sales price increased 36.4%, or $60,000, and the number of home sales decreased 25.3%. There are currently 86 resale and new homes in Richmond on Trulia, including 7 open houses, as well as 550 homes in the pre-foreclosure, auction, or bank-owned stages of the foreclosure process. The average listing price for homes for sale in Richmond CA was $318,422 for the week ending Jun 26, which represents an increase of 2.9%, or $8,902, compared to the prior week. Popular neighborhoods in Richmond include Marina Bay and May Valley, with average listing prices of $292,857 and $363,693.
http://www.movoto.com/statistics/ca/richmond.htm shows a 33% increase.
A devaluation of the refinery makes no sense either. The repairs were substantially completed by the January 1 enrollment date. The idea that a repaired refinery with newly-installed state-of-the-art components is worth a billion dollars less than one that was so decrepit it exploded, strains credibility. And both production and profits are up over last year.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323740804578598241179289444.html states in an articles dated July 10:
Chevron's oil refining business results were mixed. U.S. gasoline sales for the entire quarter rose 0.4% year over year to 523,000 barrels a day. Profit margins rose 4.7% to $22.23 a barrel in the West Coast, but fell 10% in the Gulf Coast markets to $20.54 a barrel. Profit margins at its Singapore refinery fell nearly 20%, to $7.49 a barrel. Chevron didn't say what caused the change in margins.
Chevron's refineries processed 1.61 million barrels a day, down from 1.8 million a day in the second quarter of 2012. U.S. refining throughput increased 183,000 barrels a day from the first quarter after the company ratcheted up production at its Richmond, Calif., refinery that had been damaged by a fire in August 2012 and finished repairs at its Mississippi refinery.
There is something fishy going on her, and we need to get to the bottom of it.
Richmond officials stare at gaping budget hole, no good solutions
By Robert Rogers
Contra Costa Times
Posted:   07/11/2013 11:33:00 AM PDT
Updated:   07/11/2013 11:33:01 AM PDT

RICHMOND -- Faced with the sudden loss of millions of dollars from the budget they passed in late June, Richmond officials are scrambling for information and to come up with a plan to bridge the shortfall.
"We're still in the fact-finding phase," said City Manager Bill Lindsay. "We're still trying to understand the reasons for the magnitude in the property tax drop."
Lindsay sent Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer a public information request July 3 seeking all public documents related to " ... why the city's tax roll assessment has decreased and what constitutes that reduction."
Meanwhile, the city stares at a 14.61 percent decline in the assessed value of properties in Richmond, amounting to an estimated $6.1 million reduction in tax revenues this fiscal year. The news came days after the city passed a $144 million budget.
The decline in assessed value was driven mostly by a roughly $1 billion drop in the valuation of the Chevron refinery after an Aug. 6 fire knocked out its No. 4 crude unit and hammered the refinery's business income, according to Kramer, who said the drop should have been expected.
But city leaders disagreed, saying Kramer kept them in the dark before dropping the disheartening news.
"It really surprises me," said Councilman Tom Butt. "It doesn't seem consistent with common sense. They rebuilt the refinery, so it ought to be worth more, not less."
Barring an unforeseen change, Richmond faces the daunting task of shaving $6 million from an already lean budget. Fewer than 800 people work for the city today, down from more than 1,100 a few years ago. The city as a whole was given a net assessed value of $10.89 billion, a decline of more than $1.86 billion, while every other city in the county saw an increase in assessed value.
"I don't know how we balance the budget without laying people off," Butt said. "We could gut programs, like shut down the library and the recreation programs to get there, but I think the better way is to look for a little bit of savings everywhere, including public safety."
Whether to look for cuts in police or fire services is expected to draw fierce discord. While public safety comprises more than 60 percent of all local spending, Richmond has been hailed for significantly reducing crime in recent years, a development many in the city link to a fully staffed police department augmented with pricey technologies like cameras and gunshot audio-detection systems.
"I'm not cutting the police department, that's a given," said Councilman Nat Bates. "(Safety) is the public's top priority. We're finding the cuts somewhere else."
Bates, who along with Councilman Corky Boozé warned of looming deficits when they dissented from passing the original General Fund budget, said the city needs a comprehensive audit to determine where cuts should be made.
But Bates already has a few targets.
"I know there is duplicative work in the City Attorney's Office, so we can get some savings there," Bates said. "And Code Enforcement, too. It's a joke, we subsidize them to go after poor people."
Some residents have expressed dismay in recent weeks, echoing Kramer's contention that the city should have expected the fire to affect revenues. Chevron's tax bills account for about one-third of the General Fund.
"After the fire, one of the first questions I ever asked our elected officials was about the impact on annual tax revenue, and we were told it wouldn't be a problem," resident Felix Hunziker wrote on his Facebook page.
Butt hopes the shortfall could be bridged in a settlement with Chevron. The city has threatened to sue the oil giant for damages from the fire, which investigators determined was precipitated by poor maintenance of old pipes and "willful negligence." Butt said he and several other city officials are in ongoing negotiations with Chevron officials.
But with the deficit still looming, Lindsay said the onus was on Kramer to brace the city for the news that taxes would plunge.
"The short answer is we didn't know the assessments would be so far down because (Kramer) didn't tell us," Lindsay said. "We were flying blind."
Kramer said last week that anyone who didn't anticipate the drop in the refinery's valuation stemming from the fire was " being delusional."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.