“Conceptual tentative agreements” — involving requested employee help with bridging Woodland’s $6.8 million budget gap — have been reached between the City and its two non-public-safety unions: Woodland City Employees Association and Mid-Management Professional Association.

This “very good news developed” quite recently, exclaimed City Manager Mark Deven, at the Woodland City Council meeting of June 16, during an update on — “meet and confer” — negotiations proposing overall employee compensation reductions of $1.3 million, by means of furloughs or salary / benefit cuts — which city management has deemed essential for balancing the municipal budget without employee layoffs.

Basically, Woodland must chop its budget from $45 million down to $38 million (please see Yolo Sun News Report:  Final Adjustments for Woodland’s 2009-10 Budget — Also, City Manager and Library Director Will Slash Their Own Pay By 7.4%).

These — “conceptual tentative agreements” — will have the affect of eliminating — almost all potential layoffs — of non-public-safety personnel that are outlined in city staff’s “contingency” plan, to be implemented if such “agreements” didn’t materialize.

“Agreements” have yet to be negotiated between the city and its police and firefighter unions.

The legal process of accomplishing layoffs requires about a month, until it arrives at a concluding phase, wherein work must eventually cease. Unless such “agreements” promptly arise for police, firefighters and building inspectors, by June 19 several such personnel will receive formal notice of their impending involuntary-layoff.

Deven identified July 20 as the Potential Discharge Date for employee layoffs that remain operative.

___  Firefighter-Union Representative Appears  ___

Eric Zane, representing the Woodland Professional Firefighters Association appeared before the council to express that the Association “is working very hard to negotiate” with the City — and that it is presently “awaiting a written offer from the City.”

Zane described his perception that — “there is only a $2000 [budget] gap” — related to retention of the city’s Fire Prevention Specialist, whose function was identified as a key component within the Fire Department program.

Zane speculated that each firefighter would likely concur on an equity approach to underwriting this amount of deficit, for that purpose.

Approval of wage / benefit concessions by the Woodland City Employees Association has already erased the potential layoff of the department’s administrative clerk, removing the threat of decreased public-counter access.

In another budget move, resulting from a projected savings of $250,000 from added employee retirements under the Golden Handshake plan, overtime funds for firefighters have been increased to a traditional level, acceptable as (more) reasonable by the Fire Chief.

___  Police Officers Are Fewer, But Donate to Boxing Program  ___

Deven indicated during the course of the council meeting that, as a result of ongoing budget impacts causing several unfilled positions within the Police Department — only 5 officers are on patrol — 45% of the time.

He indicated that this level of service will surely impact some response times to priority 1 calls.

Officer Ted Ruiz of the Woodland Professional Police Association briefly spoke to the council about his and fellow officers’ good-faith, public relations effort of raising $690 ($10 from each member) to offer in support of the City’s [youth] boxing program, intended as a durable diversion from potentially less-desirable socialization.

Vice-mayor Art Pimentel wanted to throw in — his own $10 — to put an even $700 into this grass-roots gift by police — but he was short on hard cash.

So he turned to Mayor Skip Davies for a little help.

Whereupon Davies created the — largest laugh — of the council meeting, when he swiftly dove into his wallet, while exclaiming:  “With kids, . . . it never stops!”

___  Redevelopment Agency Reports Independently  ___

Budget matters led with Cynthia Shallit, Woodland’s Redevelopment & Housing Manager, emphasizing that the Redevelopment Agency would present its budget “independen[tly],” upon a separate agenda item, in order to better comply with relevant state law.

Shallit described that by its fiscal nature, derived from an increment of property tax within the Redevelopment Zone (essentially, Woodland’s downtown area), the City’s Redevelopment Fund is fairly resistant to adverse influences from the current, recessionary economic climate.

Shallit also expressed that various efficiencies in relevant project engineering processes would now be obtained, through matriculating agency projects within the city’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

Mention of Woodland’s CIP — which has fallen off a cliff into a sea of red ink (please see Yolo Sun News Report:  Woodland’s Capital Improvement Program — Deep in Red Ink) — seemed to pinch a nerve along the council dais, with councilmembers asking a string of detailed questions of Shallit. At one point, Deven supported with added specifics, her responses to council inquiries.

Councilmember Martie Dote was concerned about a reference in Shallit’s report involving possible — “expansion” — of the Redevelopment Zone, both east and west along Main Street, as well as south to include the existing county fairgrounds.

Shallit responded that such an “expansion” is “suggested,” and “not for sure.”

Shallit explained in response to another question, that there is about $300,000 in budget “carry-over” for the City’s commercial facade restoration program, wherein a 50% funding match is available to building owners for use in such improvements.

___  Potential State Theater Project Zeroed Out  ___

Councilmember Bill Marble inquired about the fact that a proposed project of renovating the State Theater was — zeroed out — within the agency’s future budget allocations.

Shallit briefly described a scenario of — no practical traction toward demonstrating project feasibility or business plans — on the part of the theater-owner and other interested persons.

Several project proposals for new, multiplex theaters currently exist on the eastern side of the downtown area, which if developed would likely spell eventual doom for the State Theater.

At that point, city staff and other persons have speculated, the moment will have finally arrived for either some version of viable, community-inspired (perhaps, redevelopment assisted), multi-million-dollar rescue effort — or a wrecking-ball.

$5 million of redevelopment funds is now budgeted toward securing a proper location and other assistance for a new county courthouse — within downtown Woodland — which is the highest priority project at the agency, involving retention of an extraordinarily valuable facility — as well as development of the City’s initial multi-story parking garage.

Shallit has previously indicated that the Redevelopment Agency may eventually be reimbursed for some portion of these funds (Please see upcoming Yolo Sun News Report).

___  City Manager Emphasizes Community Development Changes  ___

During the portion of his presentation which pertained to the Community Development Department, Deven emphasized that developers would now be aligned in a “Project Queue,” a time / phase line of process that would resist alteration, “so that some projects do not [unfairly] jump-ahead” of others.

Also, “High Priority Projects” would become precisely that — based on staff scrutiny, analyses and determinations regarding various elements of economic / cultural benefit(s) for the city.

Developers’ “Project Liability Accounts” (impact fees, funding for consultant studies, etc.) must now be fully funded, as well, tightening-up a more casual / flexible style of process previously in place — in recognition of presently hard-times — for developers.

As of June 30, Woodland’s budget cramp will temporarily close the public counter at the Community Development Department — except for 15 hours per week:  8 am to 11 am, Monday – Friday.

The department will engage in an outreach effort to inform the relevant public of this significant reduction in its operation, which is susceptible to some revision as warranted by specific, evolving circumstances.

___  Internal Borrowing Practices Pilloried  ___

“I’ve inherited this — and it’s really a pain in the butt” — was Deven’s emphatic reaction to Councilmember Marble’s probing for new policies with real teeth, related to seeming revelations that Woodland has — long been using a “pooled cash” (“internal borrowing”) approach to its finances — recently leading to its stable of municipal funds being anything but stable (except as moribund).

Most of Woodland’s Capital Improvement Program is spinning around relatively helplessly — within a perfect storm of red ink. Some fund deficits are projected to linger or increase for a quarter-century (please see Yolo Sun News Report:  Woodland’s Capital Improvement Program — Deep in Red Ink).

From an aggregated deficit of $20 million in 2009, negative municipal fund balances are forecast as — skyrocketing — to $32 million in 2019.

“I can’t tell you what the prognosis is [at this point],” said Deven, whose staff report indicates an upcoming effort to improve analyses and evaluations of the CIP’s financial situation.

Quizzed about one municipal account that appeared buoyant, with $37 million (over three years), city staff indicated that this particular money is related to utility surcharges, which are much less variable than development fees.

___  City Operated a Ponzi Scheme?  ___

Although noted as well by other councilmembers (for example, Vice-mayor Pimentel suggested reversing the council’s recent reduction of development fees) — Councilmember Marble spoke on several different occasions, being — “very concerned” — about this fiscal practice of: “pooled cash” — “internal borrowing,”  contending that “it’s a good way to bankrupt the city,” and eventually referring to it as similar to “a Ponzi scheme,” a famous label for fraud.

Describing specific fiscal changes, outlined in an associated staff report, Deven explained that new policy language, adopted alongside the new budget, is intended to formalize such a financial policy adjustment — establishing a suitable framework of process for resisting internal borrowing between municipal funds (individual accounts for specific purposes, like: sewer, storm-drain, police, fire, parks development, etc.).

Deven also declared that he is “happy to entertain” whatever alternatives or policies are reasonable, in order to best address this matter.

___  Revised Internal Borrowing Practices Must Continue  ___

However, his staff report indicates that these internal borrowing practices — must be indefinitely extended — because, in the words of staff from the Finance Department, during earlier testimony before the council – Woodland’s CIP is “in a deep hole — and it will take a really long time” to slowly climb out of it.

Plus, both the staff report and testimony before the council declare that the only genuine path out of this dense deficit-thicket — is by an avenue of vastly increased commercial, industrial and / or residential development — (for the most part) outside of the Spring Lake Specific Plan.

Several pertinent annexations to the city are pending or proposed — but until Woodland and Yolo County agree on a new tax-sharing compact (the existing Memorandum of Understanding is obsolete), no annexations will occur.

Councilmember Dote has expressed concern about further amending Woodland’s outdated (1996-ish) General Plan, through significant annexations, and inquired to Deven at one point in this meeting about the possibility of having developers help pay for the estimated $1.3 million expense of enacting a new Plan.

Flexibility to continue arranging resources of these municipal funds along easily anticipated contours of prioritized needs, is argued to be fundamental for servicing municipal obligations related to bond payments, for example, according to Deven’s report.

Certain key municipal projects may also become affected by any form of strict prohibition against fund transfers (“internal borrowing”).

However, this result — obtained within a surprisingly short period of time — seemed to be the goal of Marble’s comments.

At first, Deven stated that he would prepare a relevant update for presentation to the council in a year, but he later retreated to six months. Several councilmembers mentioned holding a special meeting(s) on this topic.

“Avoid[ing] internal borrowing,” as expressed by Marble, will become a work-in-progress, as clearly expected by Deven.

What’s not obvious, however, is the practical benefit of lamenting many years of financial laxities (engaged in during his own council term) — by means of Marble’s snappy analogy to fraud — while, proposing some vague constriction of reasonable flexibility for municipal operations that are imperative — as the city remains under thrall of such chronic, fiscal mismanagement.

___  More Budget Cuts Envisioned for 2010-11 Fiscal Year  ___

In remarks toward the conclusion of this council meeting, Mayor Davies announced that there is already perceived to be a $2.5 – $3 million hole in next year’s budget, “and we’ll start working on this immediately.”