Last week the Yountville Sun’s title for the Town Council meeting that discussed how to distribute over $5.7M in Unassigned Fund Balance included the term “spending spree.” Unfortunate choice of words that the Editor chose to use; a brief period of extravagant spending. These words do a disservice to the time and effort spent by Town Staff and Town Council. The Editor’s hyperbole serves no purpose but to start the reader in a negative mood for a very positive outcome.
This was a big meeting! Over $5.7 million in General Fund Unassigned Fund Balance to be discussed (and, actually, after an annual external audit is completed, there will be about $400,000 more to add to that total.). There was even another agenda item for an update on the fiscal year 2022/2023 budget (which is done every month at the Council meetings.)
There has been so much talk about more community involvement. More transparency. So surely, after many candidates have stated we should be having these exact discussions, there would be increased community involvement. If you say it, then it must be true.
But, apparently, the community is not quite ready yet to step up and be involved; there were two of us in the audience and a total of two public comments on these agenda items. One of those public comments was from me. The other public comment came from Mayoral candidate Pam Reeves. As the agenda had laid out ideas from Town staff beforehand, Reeves had quite a few questions about the distribution of the funds and found quite a few issues with the Unassigned Fund Balance distribution.
The Town Council usually discusses how to allocate a General Fund Unassigned Fund Balance after completing the annual audit process. In the past, this has been done at the December or January Council meeting. The Staff decided to bring this item to the Council for consideration earlier for two reasons: this fiscal year had a larger than usual Unassigned Fund Balance, and the current ongoing five-year Proposition 218 utility rate review process. This current Council developed this budget and individually has produced at least eight or more budgets. This time frame falls perfectly into their process. But, alas, it is an election year, so Mayoral candidate Reeves felt, “A new council with perhaps different priorities will be taking over in January. Why is this Council seeking to tie up funds that the new Council will be charged with administering, especially when people are voting on new leadership and priorities right now.”
Just wait until you see the funds this current Council “… is seeking to tie up”. (yes, it is in larger type to drive the point home!)
- Approve the creation of new Water and Wastewater Utility Enterprise Capital Projects Restricted fund and transfer $1,650,000 to establish a balance.
- Transfer $888,668 into the Water Capital Improvement to pay off the outstanding balance of inter-fund loan debt.
- Transfer $400,000 into the Emergency Reserve Fund.
- Transfer $500,000 into the Revenue Stabilization Reserve.
- Contribute $100,000 to the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) Trust.
- Contribute $750,000 to the Pension Rate Stabilization Plan (PRSP) Trust.
- Assign $750,000 to support affordable housing efforts further.
- Transfer $300,000 into the 2020 Direct Placement Financing Debt Service to prepay two fiscal years of payments.
- Transfer $200,000 into Capital Projects for EV charging stations or fleet replacement with electric vehicles.
- Transfer $100,000 into Capital Projects to replace grass areas with high-quality artificial turf.
- Create Park & Recreation Community Use fund to establish a $50,000 budget
How dare they! $900,000 into reserve accounts, $1.65M to offset water rates, funding PERS & OPEB, $750,00 for housing and $50,000 to community events. I truly hope that come November, our new Mayor and Council members will be able to administer and work with a budget that includes these line items. Priorities indeed.
Of course, Mayoral candidate Reeves further stated that these balances “…should be discussed in more detail with more public input.” Just asking for more meetings and discussions does not make it happen. I have been a part of the budget meetings, General Fund Unassigned Balance meetings, and many more meetings for over eight years as both a Council member and a private citizen; extending it out to a new Council or a new fiscal year does not bring about the involvement. This Town does more outreach than it has done in the past, and we still have the level of participation we’ve always had.
A Parks Master Development Plan Roundtable gets about 40 community members attending so they can talk about a dog park and pool. The Water/Wastewater Rate Utility meeting brings six community members to discuss water and sewer rates for the next five years. A Fiscal Budget meeting gets one. All are a collegial atmosphere of open discussion.
Let’s be absolutely clear: there is a distinct difference between 1. getting your voice heard and 2. getting your voice heard and not getting your way. Just because the vote doesn’t go your way doesn’t mean your voice is not being listened to!
As a Mayoral candidate, Reeves continually speaks about the successful inclusion of all; it is obvious she is looking for involvement that specifically includes those who agree with her.
As this General Fund Unassigned Balance meeting showed, there is transparency, and there is resident input. Yes, it was two community members. As the Parks Master Development Plan meeting showed, there is transparency, and there is resident input.
Just because it is repeated on postcards, amongst your friends, announced at the park at your meet-and-greet, and at an election forum does not make it a reality.
As for this current General Unassigned Fund Balance, the Council spoke to and gave input on all the Staff suggestions for the balances. They talked about artificial turf more than anyone needs to speak about artificial turf, and they have left solid footing for those coming into position in November.
In my public comment, I felt that the Town could fund a community fund through this process, and I challenged them to think outside the box and see how they can guide Town staff to give back to our community. I asked them to set the path for the new Council members and Mayor that we will all be seeing in November. Does that mean two Town parties and a subsidy for locals attending Golden Ticket events? I live in Old Town, so I would love to see utility undergrounding. Many opportunities. Sonoma County is starting a UBI (universal basic income) for its qualified residents as the National League of Cities has produced “A Guide to City Experiments and Pilot Projects.” Many things can happen. This is the opportunity for our new Council and the priorities they can establish.