City Adopts Budget, Aims to Improve Fiscal Efficiency

At long last, San Marino has a budget.
After an extra two months of work on the document, several City Council meetings that tested officials’ mental energy and patience, and focused looks at departments and fiscal strategies, it is the first step the city is taking to usher in a new era of financial scrutiny and disciplined planning. Officials were at times not overly enthusiastic about the approved budget, but acknowledged it was part of a process.
“I do promise you that we will come up with something, as much as we can, before I leave office,” Mayor Steve Talt told the audience, referring to the search for more efficiency in budgeting.
The City Council had previously signaled tentative approval of the bulk of the city’s budget, minus the Recreation Department and the Parks and Public Works Department. With the approval of both at last week’s meeting, the council was able to rubber-stamp the whole budget to make it formal and take effect Saturday, Sept. 1. The council had extended a June 30 deadline so it could receive more detailed information to guide its deliberations.
The budget projects $28.61 million in revenues and $23.17 million in expenditures. About $4.5 million is expected to be sent to general fund reserves at the end of the fiscal year, and that provoked a conversation last week about what to do with it.
The City Council plans to discuss its plans for the reserve on Dec. 12, after the audits for the previous fiscal year have been completed.
The Parks and Public Works budget is, in a sense, married to the newly created Capital Projects Fund, which dedicates its money to the city’s infrastructure and facilities projects (they were previously simple line items in the general fund). The existence of the fund makes it easier to plan capital projects and opens doors for the city to seek outside funding as well.
In creating the separate fund, the City Council also adopted a policy of retaining approximately 40% of annual expenditures in the general fund reserve. To reach that mark, the council also transferred $12.5 million of reserve money to the Capital Projects Fund.
“In effect, you’ve established quite a thriving second business at a time in which cities are not doing that,” said Finance Director Josh Betta.
The Parks and Public Works Department already is taking a Year Two attitude, with Director Michael Throne
planning to have numerous evaluations this fiscal year to prepare for breaking ground on projects next year.
He said he also is focused on identifying where to contract services or run them in-house.
Councilwoman Gretchen Shepherd Romey said she was concerned that the department had what she perceived to be a significant number of projects to complete while also being expected to revamp the way it operates; it was established at the meeting that the department routinely has carried projects over from year to year because they weren’t started or completed.
Throne, who has been with the city for about a year, said that his condition assessments and evaluations were well within the department’s capabilities this year, even amid any restructuring.
“That’s why we appreciate that you didn’t try to push a more robust program on us,” City Manager Marcella Marlowe added. “That is why we didn’t go as aggressive.”
The City Council also awaits a report on the Recreation Department before making long-term decisions regarding its future. It is awaiting a committee report by citizen advisers that is expected to give direction on cost recovery and program offerings, among other topics.
In the meantime, in lieu of temporarily shuttering the department, the city has essentially duplicated its previous budget and cut two programs to save $56,000, even with 2% salary increases. Expenses were kept at outgoing levels or reduced.
Talt, who could seek re-election to a second term next year, surmised that city residents were now focused on him and his peers to finish the job of cleaning up city operations and finances, and emphasized the continuing need for city officials to change the culture there.
“There’s been so many things going on with this budget and a lot of it has been redone by our staff and I appreciate it,” Shepherd Romey echoed, “so I’m going to be taking a two-year look at this budget process.”

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