The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday endorsed a budget that boosts spending on firefighters, police officers and parks. But it also pushes the city toward a deficit that may hit as soon as 2017, according to city projections.
In a 6-3 vote, the council approved a budget that spends $6.9 million more than the city manager’s proposed spending plan and relies on a temporary sales-tax hike to fund long-term commitments.
Full-time employees were a big part of the added expenses approved Tuesday on a preliminary vote. That includes more police officers and parks workers, staffing an additional firetruck and ambulance for Natomas and opening a community counter where people could raise public safety issues. The spending plan also includes money for police body cameras and five additional employees for Mayor Kevin Johnson, a controversial provision after voters last year rejected his attempt to expand his powers through a strong-mayor initiative.
According to projections by city staff, Sacramento’s general fund will be depleted to the point of a $2.6 million deficit by fiscal year 2016-17. That number, estimates show, will increase to $12.7 million the following year based on current revenue expectations.
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The City Council voted to pay for most of the $6.9 million in additional expenses from funds raised by Measure U, a sales tax increase voters approved in 2012. The city projects it will have enough in the Measure U coffers to cover the general fund deficit through the tax hike’s expiration in 2019, but some City Council members worried that the city is leaving little wiggle room for future economic setbacks.
Councilmen Larry Carr, Steve Hansen and Jeff Harris opposed the additional spending.
“I see a lot of millions of dollars being spent here, all on noble causes,” Harris said. “My concern is these aren’t sustainable items.”
The cost of full-time city employees increases at a rate of about 4 percent per year, according to Leyne Milstein, Sacramento’s finance director.
Some council members said the temporary Measure U money should go toward one-time improvements rather than permanent hires largely in parks and law enforcement.
After Tuesday’s vote, the budget moves to the city’s Budget and Audit Committee before returning to the council for final approval next month. The committee, comprising exclusively council members who voted to approve the spending plan on Tuesday, is widely expected to recommend its adoption.
“I can support this budget,” said Councilman Allen Warren, who also sits on the Budget and Audit Committee. “Measure U is really a tool to help us get back a lot of the things we lost (in the recession). … Right now, we have a lot of ground to make up.”
The budget was created this year with unprecedented input from the mayor and some council members and, even in its original iteration, included $19 million in new spending out of more than $23 million in requests from elected officials.
“There’s a lot of good news in this budget,” Johnson said, citing parks improvement plans, the hiring of more police officers and making public safety a “top priority.”
City Manager John Shirey began the budget portion of Tuesday night’s council meeting by saying he continued to support the passage of the budget as written – without any significant additions or reductions.
That included five mayoral positions that would bolster the mayor’s staff and increase his spending by 70 percent. The positions, three of which were listed in the city manager’s line item rather than in the mayor’s budget request, drew skepticism and critique from some council members who believed the mayor had not fully justified the jump in staff and spending and was overstepping his bounds after the public rejected the strong-mayor initiative in November.
One of those jobs, legislative director, was filled more than a month before the spending plan is expected to be adopted. City officials have yet to identify who was hired.
“I don’t believe they’re necessary, and I don’t believe they’re consistent with the will of the people’s vote last fall,” said Hansen, who has been a vocal critic of the mayor’s moves to fortify his office.
After expressing his continued displeasure, Hansen made a late play to propose an alternate solution: Reallocate those five full-time jobs to the Department of Parks and Recreation. That proposal failed by a 3-6 vote.
The positions, some of which would act as liaisons between the mayor’s office and state and federal government, were budgeted at nearly $700,000.
“One way to view this is it’s an opportunity for us,” Shirey told the council.
Residents, clergy and civil rights activists who attended Tuesday’s meeting spoke almost exclusively in favor of a one-time $1 million allocation to create a gang-prevention task force. That measure was also included in the council’s recommendation.