The Pleasanton City Council discussed various aspects of the latest recommended budget plan that staff presented during the last formal workshop earlier this month, including possibly adding funds toward repairing the Alamo Canal Trail.
The consideration came after Pleasanton resident Sharon Piekarski requested that the council take action on that and other neglected trails.
"I hear this city values residents' safety, addressing climate change and mitigating traffic congestion. However, there are elements of this budget that tell a different story," Piekarski said during public comments at the May 16 budget workshop.
She added that she has been advocating for the city to repair and resurface that trail for a long time and that while the city's current four-year capital improvement program (CIP) does have $100,000 in funding set aside for resurfacing trails, it is not enough to speed up the timeline for what she said were lifesaving repairs.
"Our most recent collision report showed that 14% of all collisions with vehicles involved bicyclists and two-thirds of those collisions were the driver's fault," Piekarski told the council. "Considering the ratio of bicyclists to drivers on our streets, this statistic is horrific."
She added by saying that the city needs to invest in trails that can be used for safe transportation and that given the several projects that are being funded in this year's budget, the city should consider adding an additional $200,000 per year from discretionary funds to the annual trail resurfacing project.
"In this CIP budget, for parks, there's $1.5 million for court and playground maintenance, $600,000 for park trails and pathway maintenance, as well as an additional $2.7 million for the skatepark for a total of over $5.5 million in just two years. All from discretionary general fund money," Piekarski said.
"In the same two-year period, I see $200,000 for renovating long neglected trails that can be used for both recreation and transportation. This clearly shows that purely recreational facilities are a much higher priority in this city than the safety of residents using active transportation that will also provide traffic mitigation and greenhouse gas emission reductions," she added.
While both councilmembers Valerie Arkin and Jeff Nibert expressed that they wanted staff to look into allocating more funds toward trail resurfacing projects such as the Alamo Trail, City Manager Gerry Beaudin told the council that finding extra spendable discretionary funds is not easy.
However, he offered one solution where staff could look at moving grant money that has been budgeted on a yearly basis for bicycle and pedestrian related improvements to the trail resurfacing project.
"It's basically taking resources from what would be otherwise assigned in other parts of the community and putting them to the trail and finding the right size for those projects to keep (the other) projects moving, but also getting the trails done sooner," Beaudin said.
But moving money around for various resurfacing projects was only one piece of last week's budget discussion, as staff went through several updates that came after the April 18 budget workshop including the governor's May revise for the state budget, which showed a larger projected deficit than originally planned.
City finance director Susan Hsieh gave the council a detailed overview of what staff say is a balanced budget, despite the fact that the budget is projecting two scenarios with eight years of deficits for the city -- one with a recession possible and one without.
She summarized how while general fund revenues did not change much from staff's last budget presentation, they are projected to increase by 4.6% from the 2022-23 to 2024-25 fiscal years.
Hsieh added that revenues and expenditures are estimated at about $150 million for fiscal year 2023-24 and $155 million for fiscal year 2024-25 and that citywide operating expenditures are projected to exceed $230 million in the next two fiscal years with the largest expenditures being personnel costs that make up about 70% of the overall budget. Pleasanton approves budgets in two-year cycles.
She also said the general fund will receive $2 million from the rainy day fund, $350,000 from the business loan repayment fund for each fiscal year over the next two years, and that the general fund will contribute $2 million to the city's CIP.
Hsieh said that while the economy is showing signs of slowing down and with higher interest rates from the federal reserve to lower inflation, the city's local economy is expected to remain positive in the near future.
"The projected deficits reflect that expenditures are expected to outpace revenues," Hsieh said. "This is really normal for most agencies. Actually, our picture looks better than some of the ones that I have seen in the past."
Hsieh also explained that as the city's proposed budget was finalized, staff received higher cost estimates for general liability insurance and certain legal activities that is forcing staff to delay or reduce funding for certain program such as the East Pleasanton Development Plan, the Library and Recreation Strategic Plan and the Citywide Strategic Communication Plan.
"The adjustments also include reductions in contributions to certain repair replacement funds," she said. "With these adjustments, there will not be an overall impact to the general fund."
But Vice Mayor Jack Balch took issue to the eight-year projected deficits to the city and said that while he does support a large portion of the overall budget, he can't support allocating discretionary funds toward amenities like a new skate park or the Century House renovations that can be put on pause while the city tackles other issues such as water contamination.
"We're facing some tough sledding ahead in Pleasanton and if you doubt me just look at the first three pages of this budget," Balch said. "It shows that Pleasanton is not flush with cash."
"I support a large portion of this budget -- and I want to make that clear -- but it's really hard for me to support discretionary amenities that will draw down on available cash and, once completed, add to the annual maintenance obligation of this city, when I see eight to nine years of deficits," he added. "So I have a difficult, ethical challenge, personally, attending a ribbon-cutting for a $6.4 million skate park, while possibly at the same time trying to figure out how to pay for water pumps and city staff."
But as Balch asked the council to at least consider putting a pause on discretionary CIP amenities and to maybe consider a phased approach for projects such as the Century House rebuild project, Mayor Karla Brown responded by saying that she doesn't believe the council should be "flip-flopping" on projects previously approved.
"I think when this council makes a decision to move forward on an amenity, especially one that really is fairly small in the entire budget, I would not support (deferring it) unless there was a catastrophic situation (that) happens," Brown said.
As for addressing water contamination issues and the overall water supply in Pleasanton, Brown said that instead of looking at outside funding sources, the city needs to find ways to increase the water enterprise funds through things like water rates.
"We're talking about many water alternatives and that's where we should be," she said. "That final decision hasn't been made but in my opinion, water pays for water, sewer pays for sewer. Those are enterprise funds."
The updated budget draft is scheduled to be presented to the council on June 6 for final approval and adoption where any final decisions regarding council recommendations will be reflected.