Madera City Manager Arnoldo Rodriguez, left, and Mayor Andy Medellin.
There is good news for the city of Madera — the city’s 2019-2020 budget is balanced — but that news must be tempered with cautious optimism, according to new City Manager Arnoldo Rodriguez.
“It’s a balanced budget and a step in the right direction, but it provides for immediate needs and not long-term needs,” he said.
In other words, revenue in from residents — such as taxes, utility billings, and other charges and fees, — just meet current city obligations of payroll, pensions and some other operational needs, with the Measure K sales tax revenue of almost $4.8 million dollars providing welcome new equipment, buildings and personnel for the police and fire departments, which might not have otherwise have been possible.
Rodriguez, previously a city planner with Yuba City, took the helm of Madera in early December, and likened the last six- or seven-month process to a stabilization effort and “trying to drink out of a fire hose,” with sorting out all the information, personnel and financial challenges of his new position.
After irate residents repeatedly demanded change, at least six senior department heads resigned, took retirement or did not have their contracts renewed by votes of the 2019 Madera City Council, leaving a total of 26 unfilled positions city wide.
“There are (still) a lot of unmet needs in our community. This gets us to a better (financial) footing, and the community a better understanding of where we are at (financially.)” He called the budget “a dense document (of several hundred pages) but a concise document with a lot of information in it. It’s written in a way to try and make it understandable. But it doesn’t get into (or reflect) our long-term (financial) needs. There is very little in this budget that addresses our (previously) deferred maintenance needs in this budget.”
Rodriguez said this year’s budget does manage to cover a $4.7 million dollar payment to the State of California Public Employees Pension System, known as PERS, for the controversial “unfunded liability” portion amounts previously promised to some senior municipal employees statewide. This large unfunded liability amount is due annually and is projected to grow and affect most California cities for the next four to five years, and fluctuates with many variables and the success or failure of the PERS pension investment funds.
The unfunded PERS liability is costly but can be managed several ways, he said, by careful planning and cost savings, leaving positions unfilled and barring another economic downturn, trying to bring in more businesses to grow jobs and the sales tax base.
“I don’t think there is a (single) solution, but rather a (mix) of solutions, and I think this budget reflects that, with all the small things we did, to try and take a balanced budget to the community and the council. This budget, like all budgets is based on assumptions (regarding revenues and expenses) in terms of projections. It’s a fluid situation and we have to keep our finger on the pulse going forward. Having (planning and funding) systems in place for when things break, and they will, so that we don’t have to hit the panic button. That’s the challenge. I feel great about where we are at now, verses where we were at when I first got here. That being said there is always room for improvement.” Rodriguez said.
Regular meetings of the Madera City Council are held the first and third Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 405 W. 4th St. The public is invited to attend.