For months, various media have delighted in stories about Richmond’s impending budget deficit, anticipating it as a fact around which to build a story rather than simply a challenge that the City had committed to overcome since early 2015.
On June 28, 2016, the Richmond City Council came together in a rare show of unity and voted unanimously to adopt a structurally balanced budget, the third balanced budget in as many years, but the first of the three to be fully structurally balanced. A week before, the City Council faltered, torn by various agendas councilmembers wanted to incorporate into a budget decision. On June 28, the conditions were deferred to another day, and a clean budget was passed.
The RPA3 (McLaughlin, Beckles and Martinez) will get another chance in closed session next week to pitch their creative but impossible plan for the City’s higher paid employees to take voluntary pay cuts. Bates and Martinez will get a chance in September to vote on reinstating the Finance and Public Safety Committees, and Bates and Pimple will get a chance to pitch a comprehensive City performance audit.
Did any media cover this? Of course not. The angle had gone away. The bad news the media thrives on had evaporated. That’s why we have the TOM BUTT E-FORUM, to fill that media gap.
The good news is that the City Council and the city manager simply did their jobs. It wasn’t easy, and it left some unhappy campers, but we did what we had to do.
How did we get there? Despite continuous bashing by the press for fiscal irresponsibility, City staff and the City Council have been working their way to a balanced budget for over a year. Back in early 2015, the Mayor’s Office wrote a successful grant application that resulted in substantial resources from the National Resource Network, a core component of the Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) initiative that develops and delivers innovative solutions to American cities to help them address their toughest economic challenges. The Network works with local leaders to identify practical solutions, share real-world expertise and best practices, and help cities develop the tools and strategies they need to grow their economies.
In December 2015, Russ Branson of the National Resource Network, in collaboration with City staff provided a “Multi-Year Budget Update” that had been evolving most of the year. It was not, as characterized by the Contra Costa Times, a wakeup call from an “outside company, ”See An Inside View of Responsible Fiscal Planning, December 21, 2015.
As work on the budget progressed there was a second presentation, National Resource Network Richmond Budget Presentation April 26, 2016 that provided a roadmap to a balanced budget. In the April 26, presentation, Branson did not recommend layoffs, suggesting other ways to reduce $5 million in personnel costs. The city, he said, should attempt to gain concessions from its unions, eliminate vacant positions, reduce police and fire overtime, and do a better job of recovering more of the fees owed to the city for such things as construction permits. He recommended another $3 million in non-personnel cost reductions, including using fewer contractors to complete jobs and reducing city vehicle expenses. See http://www.ci.richmond.ca.us/DocumentCenter/View/38498.
City Manager Bill Lindsay followed this roadmap assiduously, including being able to negotiate OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) concessions from four of the city’s six bargaining units. Because there were two holdouts, the adopted budget had to include a handful of staff reductions.
No media thinks this is important, but we do.