City Manager John Shirey’s final spending plan for Sacramento is far happier than his first in 2012, when City Hall was still digging out of the Great Recession.
Then, the headlines were about laying off police officers and firefighters. On Monday, Shirey called for keeping on 15 police officers hired with federal money, on top of 184 sworn positions restored since 2012, thanks to federal grants and the Measure U sales tax approved by voters.
The proposed budget is right to focus on the scary spike in crime. It adds three park rangers and also includes expanding the ShotSpotter system to south Sacramento from North Sacramento, where it helped lead to an arrest in the Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo homicide; spending $1.2 million on the mayor’s gang-prevention task force; and increasing the Summer Night Lights program from $200,000 to $300,000.
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This is the second year that Mayor Kevin Johnson and the City Council took an earlier, more active role in setting budget priorities. Shirey includes nearly all of them, about $20 million worth.
The proposal includes $1 million a year as the city’s contribution toward efforts on the homeless. It also includes staff to support Johnson’s “Sacramento 3.0” initiatives to lure innovative companies and jobs to the downtown railyard, near Sacramento State and around UC Davis Medical Center.
But it’s not all blue skies ahead – and there could be storm clouds if Measure U isn’t renewed by voters before it expires in 2019.
Shirey cautions that while the city is benefiting from a strong economic recovery, its labor and pension costs are rising – at least $5 million more in 2017-18. The biggest union contracts expire in the next two years, any concessions on retirement costs will be at least partly offset by salary increases, and the city is at the mercy of demands from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
It’s worth noting that the city is adding eight police officers to patrol by reassigning them from forensics and replacing them with lower-cost civilians. The city badly needs similar flexibility in the Fire Department to put civilian paramedics in ambulances instead of higher-cost firefighters. That move could also boost efforts to bring more women and minorities to the department, but it requires agreement from the firefighters union.
The city manager also points out the city’s growing list of unaddressed infrastructure needs and deferred repairs and maintenance. The construction budget is about $50 million, but Shirey says it could easily be three times that.
Still, with this budget, the city finally reaches an important milestone: After five years of socking money away, the city’s rainy-day fund will reach 10 percent of general fund revenue.
While the council isn’t scheduled to adopt the budget until June 14, it can take more steps toward fiscal responsibility Tuesday night. One agenda item would set 10 percent as the minimum level for the reserve and set a new goal of about 17 percent. Another is a commitment that once a budget is approved, the council will avoid adding new programs or increasing services, except in emergencies.
Over the past few years, the city has found firmer financial footing by focusing on the basics and largely avoiding reckless spending sprees. There’s no reason to change course now.