YOLO SUN SERIAL NEWS REPORT :
Significant information about the rapidly worsening budget condition of the City of Woodland emerged during the course of the regular bi-weekly meeting of the Woodland Public Library Board of Trustees, on Monday, September 22, 2008.
Librarian Sandra Briggs reported to the trustees about matters related to the city budget which were disclosed within a meeting, earlier that same day, of senior city staff and heads of city departments. Such Monday meetings are now regular practice under the leadership of city manager Mark Deven, as are associated, lunchtime meetings on Tuesdays, of Deven, Woodland’s Mayor, Skip Davies, and Vice-Mayor, Art Pimentel.
“I’m gravely concerned,” expressed Briggs to the trustees, “the (newly updated) city budget situation is very bad. A concerted effort should begin on the part of the board to sustain the library as we know it today.”
“A public education program as outlined by American Library Association (ALA) would be appropriate,” Briggs informed the trustees. [Please see following internet material: http://staging.ala.org/ala/aboutala/hqops/pio/campaign/prtools/futureyourlibrary.cfm]
____ Multiple Impacts to Library Funding ____
This updated city budget news, noted Briggs, is in addition to the “recently discovered impacts of our apparently long-term inaccuracy in reporting Inter-Library loans for State reimbursement and the further anticipated cuts to the State budget which the governor signed.”
Briggs indicated in a subsequent interview that, “no single issue alone would be devastating, but the sum total places the library in a vulnerable position.”
Later in their meeting, Briggs and the board became worried about funding prospects for re-filling existing and future staff vacancies at the library (some involving impending retirements of key personnel), related to the situation of increasing staff vacancies — citywide.
Briggs reported that about 70 city staff positions were presently being allowed to remain vacant, including 8 positions on the police force and 3 positions within the fire department. Also, when the city finance director retired earlier this month, this administrative function was shifted to city clerk, Sue Vannucci, rather than accomplish the hiring of a new finance director.
“The whole city is cutting back, including the area of safety normally considered to be insulated,” said Briggs in a subsequent interview.
______ $1.7 MIllion in New Cuts to Existing City Budget _____
During this meeting, Briggs reported that the annual budget which the city council considered balanced in June, with about $6.5 million in cuts, must now be re-balanced — through a relatively unexpected, immediate and additional cut of $1.7 million from the — soon to be prepared – (preliminary) budget for 2009-10.
During an interview after the trustees meeting, Briggs clarified that, “Mark has just received the latest closeout numbers for FY 2008. Despite the painful cuts made in January 08 and the serious adjustments made for decreased revenue to balance the 08 budget, the latest figures indicate an additional $1.7 million shortfall. The decrease in revenues resulted from even lower than adjusted collection of sales tax, property tax, and developer fees and will have to be recouped in the current fiscal year.
“Additional cuts will be necessary to achieve a balanced budget,” Briggs explained to the trustees, continuing that, “Mark is committed to full clarity, accuracy and integrity in the budget process. He will schedule a meeting with senior staff and Finance to be followed by briefings with the City Council budget committee and report to the full council.
“October 28 is designated for the staff / Council retreat devoted entirely to the budget,” noted Briggs, adding that further budget cuts may potentially place at risk a number of important part-time and temporary positions within the library, as well as threatening to delay several plans for library expansion (please see several recent news reports by Yolo Sun on these specific matters).
“Revenue projections have been conservatively optimistic based upon the recent years of housing boom and financial surplus,” described Briggs, alluding to years of municipal experience of fiscal buoyancy associated with the — recently burst — housing-bubble.
“Structural deficit issues now exist,” she continued, as a result of such influences upon the city’s budget management practices.
“How much money is there — really,” Briggs questioned, “and what are we going to do with it?” She pointed out that, under these constantly changing economic circumstances and structural complexities, which impact all aspects of revenue generation, “no one actually knows, it’s a moving target.”
Urgency was keenly felt by the trustees, in terms of their best fashioning a timely response to these deteriorating budgetary prospects, by advancing various forms of community advocacy for the library’s programs, which are (happily) expanding concurrently with overall (federal, state and local) budget tightening.
____ City Council Response ____
Interviewed during the days following this library trustees meeting, several members of the Woodland City Council (Mayor Skip Davies was unavailable and Councilmember Bill Marble was attending a California League of Cities conference in Long Beach, accompanied by City Manager Mark Deven) expressed their perspectives on these evolving economic / financial matters.
Vice-mayor Art Pimentel states that although public safety is his highest priority, he is “passionate about the library,” and protective of its expanding programs. “We need to maintain service levels at the expectations of the community,” he explains, “and I know we have been doing that.”
Pimentel says that he is well aware of the City’s increasing budget predicament (he and the mayor receive weekly updates from City Manager Mark Deven), indicating that Woodland is surely not alone in experiencing these adverse, regional and national economic conditions, and further declaring his strong intention that City service levels be maintained.
Councilmember Jeff Monroe reacted by saying that: “Every city, every county is going through the same problem – revenues are going in the tank. We cannot run a deficit so we have to adjust. It looks like we will have to make approximately $1 million adjustment in our general fund. Hopefully, that is the end of it for this year but if the recession gets worse or we have a depression, we will have to cut some more.”
“I don’t think that it’s that big of a surprise,” says Councilmember Martie Dote, in reference to these most recent evaluations of the city’s worsening financial situation.
Dote describes: “There was a lot of caution about how this budget was done,” pointing out that recent budget processes featured basic inclusion of the city’s union leadership — which is untypical — in order to promote improved understanding and cooperation.
“There is no reason to panic,” Dote declares. “It’s premature,” to conclude the existence of any serious threat to library programs. “Structural adjustments to the budget can be made,” she says, which will help to resolve potential dangers of further cuts of city funds for the library.
Dote provided an example in the fact that various city staff positions are presently being funded by means of the city’s enterprise funds.
“I don’t anticipate program cuts at this point,” Dote relates. “We can still absorb this increasing deficit without layoffs or major cuts to programs;” although, “minor adjustments to service levels (such as slightly reducing certain hours of municipal operations),” may be an option for continued balancing of the city’s budget.
“I have a lot of confidence in our department heads and city manager,” to navigate escalating economic turbulence and uncertainty, Dote comments. “We are constantly responding to changes in economic circumstances.”
Dote emphasizes that: “Members of the (city) council would agree that the library is a priority;” adding that, “doing anything adverse to the library wouldn’t be politically smart,” since it enjoys such broad and deep community support.