Bishop City Councilors met for the first time to discuss the city’s FY 2012-2013 Budget on Tuesday at City Council Chambers on West Line.
Like most budget hearings in California of late, this meeting was far from cheery. Interim City Administrator Keith Caldwell reported that the total FY 12-13 expenditures for the city are projected at $9,653,708, while total revenues are projected at $8,880,479, leaving a $773,229 shortfall. If the shortfall isn’t made up through a combination of employee concessions, beginning July 1 2012, changes in the budget, or changes in benefits, the city will be relying on its $2.2 million General Fund Reserve to close the deficit gap.
Mayor Pro-Tem David Stottlemyre pointed out that relying entirely on the reserve would leave just $1.4 million, “which isn’t a whole lot.” On top of that, Stottlemyre continued, “some General Fund-funded things, like salaries, are coming out of TUT [Transient Use Tax] money now.” In FY 10-11 the TUT balance was $280,782. But, said Stottlemyre, “The TUT fund balance by the end of 2013 is projected to be about $17,800. So come 2013, both the General Fund and TUT are going to be way down. This puts us in a very uncomfortable position.”
To determine whether they might cut corners in anticipation of these concerns, Councilors ran through a list of organizations requesting funding for FY 12-13. Two presentations in particular moved Councilors to consider funding requests: the first was from Jennifer Duncan, Director of the Inyo Mono Senior Legal Program. Duncan described the plight of an 86-year-old client who contacted the organization after her SSI (Supplemental Security income) benefits were ended without notice. Duncan reported that, with the help of the Senior Legal Program, the client was able to obtain an immediate reinstatement retroactively to Oct. 2010 for the wrongful termination of SSI benefits. This was just one of many examples of the good the Senior Legal Program has done, she said.
Jean Turner, Director of County Health and Human Services, presented next for the Inyo Mono Area Agency on Aging (IMAAA). As The Sheet recently reported, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors formally ended its partnership with the IMAAA, notifying the IMAAA Governing Board that it would no longer continue providing administrative services for the senior service program as of June 30, 2012. Nevertheless, Turner was requesting the same level of funding from Bishop for the program: about $22,000 to help cover propane, utilities and janitorial service at the Bishop Senior Center.
“We only see our senior population increasing in Inyo County,” Turner said. This past year IMAAA delivered 59,261 meals to homes around the County. In addition, IMAAA delivered 16,572 meals to senior centers, about 8,000 of which were delivered to the Bishop Senior Center. Turner related that she had spoken to some seniors on fixed incomes who “have to decide between food for themselves or their pets. Sometimes their pets are their only companions.”
Jim Tatum, presenting for the Tri-County Fairground and High School Rodeo, was so moved by Duncan and Turner’s presentations that he admitted, “I’m not sure we need this money. I’m not comfortable competing with some of these other programs for these funds. We’re not going to get our feelings hurt if this $1,000 goes to another program.”
Council Member Jim Ellis applauded Tatum for his sincerity. “It shows a lot about your character,” he said. “You’ve got an incredible program, and I hope it continues for a long, long time.”
One area in which the plight of seniors didn’t garner much sympathy was County retiree health insurance costs. The overall cost for providing health insurance to retirees “has doubled in 3 years across the board,” Councilmember Ellis said. A bit of research proves that Ellis wasn’t far from the truth: in FY 09-10 the actual expenditure for City Council retiree health insurance was $38,488; the request for FY 12-13 is $60,000. The same goes for Administration: $16,161 in FY 09-10; $33,000 requested for FY 12-13. The same for Finance: $7,720 in FY 09-10; $14,000 requested for FY 12-13. And so on.
“We pay more for retirees than current employees,” said Councilmember Jeff Griffiths. This, too, appears to be true: City Council FY 09-10 expenditures for current employee healthcare was $35,823 compared to $38,488 for retirees, and the request for FY 12-13 is $57,000 compared to $60,000 for retirees. Although Councilors mused whether they might cap retiree health insurance benefits in the future, no solution was arrived at by the close of the hearing.
Ultimately, Council chose to maintain FY 2010-2011 levels of funding for all programs, with one exception: the IMAAA. “I don’t know who’s going to be running the program,” said Griffiths. “We need a better understanding of who we’d be writing a check to.”
IMAAA is expected to come before Council with more information and a new request sometime next year.
The preliminary FY 12-13 Bishop City budget will move forward for a chance for approval on Monday, Oct. 24.