City staff offered a stark view Monday night of Albany's challenges meeting community needs and fulfilling its obligations with a report that sets the backdrop for a possible sales tax increase that could come before voters in November.
offered her report to the at its April 16 meeting.
Pollard also referenced a , which found more than 50 percent approval expressed "for a sales tax to maintain and support City services."
(Editor's Note: Albany Patch has not yet reported in-depth on the survey results, but a story is in the works.)
In developing future fiscal goals, Pollard wrote in her report, "staff identified some areas in which the City was already stretched to or beyond capacity and is not meeting expectations or requirements."
Pollard said that, since 2008, the city has been shedding staff positions and facing increasingly tight financial times.
As a result, the city has had a harder and harder time meeting community expectations in terms of services and requests.
City staff have thus had a tougher and tougher time avoiding mistakes and moving ahead quickly with projects, she said.
AREAS OF CONCERN
Pollard outlined a wide range of areas where the crunch has been felt most deeply.
- Code enforcement
- Homelessness in the city and on the Albany Bulb
- Technology: Equipment and systems, operations, training
- Communications between city and the community
- Public safety
- Employee compensation: Rising cost of health care and pension benefits, and attracting and retaining talented employees
- Economic development
- Staff support to advisory bodies
- Maintenance of buildings, grounds, equipment and facilities
- Capital needs (Report to come in May)
(For a more detailed explanation about the areas noted above, click the second PDF attached to this story.)
TAX REVENUE SHORTFALL PROJECTED
Pollard said the city is in the process of planning its 2012-13 budget, and has found several areas of concern.
A low number of property sales likely will mean low property transfer tax revenue. A decline in sales tax revenue, to the tune of about $200,000, is projected with the and fewer sales at due to competition from the company's Emeryville/Oakland store. The city has had no indication that other revenue sources will increase either, she wrote in her report.
On the plus side, the University of California's Whole Foods and senior housing project has been moving forward; a new is in the planning stages on Eastshore Highway; and the Safeway project once again appears to be underway.
Pollard noted in her report that all of these projects will benefit city revenues, "but not unless or until (they are) built."
For planning purposes, she wrote, the city estimates that each quarter-cent of sales tax increase would raise about $300,000. Due to other sales taxes levied by the county, Albany could raise the sales tax by no more than half a cent at this time.
During public comment following Pollard's report, Albany resident and former mayor Allan Maris thanked city staff for their creative and dedicated approach to their work.
"Hopefully our citizens will realize the conditions and the problems that we're facing and really make an effort to help the city help us as well," he said.
Resident and said she hoped the city would continue to detail its needs, and perhaps add projected costs to each section in Pollard's report to give voters more information about what a sales tax increase might actually pay for.
"I would like to think that council would like to know how much these costs will be, and will be frank with people about what they are, and are not, going to get," she said. "I am very interested in knowing how much money we really need and where you think that money should go on that list... where there really probably isn't going to be quite enough to pay for everything."
Resident Peggy McQuaid said that, given the city's challenging financial times, it could be worthwhile to take another look at council health benefits, and how they compare to those offered to city staff.
(Council members can , for a health insurance plan city staff can pay extra to obtain. The last time Albany Patch reported on this issue, council benefits had for the most recent fiscal year then available, 2009-10.)
WHAT COMES NEXT
In May and June, council members will review draft budgets to learn more about potential gaps between revenues and needs, wrote Pollard. This will help inform officials and community members about whether the city should place a tax measure, or tax measures, on the November ballot.
Pollard said, in closing, that a sales tax might not necessarily bring new services in the near future, but may simply be needed to maintain what the city currently offers.
"This may not be about what we can add after a tax is passed," she said, "but recognizing, if there are additional funds in the near- to medium- to long-range future, that we've started a process of thinking through priorities and understanding limitations."
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