Remember last June when the City approved a balanced budget for this current fiscal year? Well, councilmember Donna Frye discovered during Monday’s city council meeting that the balanced budget doesn’t appear to be balanced. While reviewing a proposal from the mayor’s office to borrow $35 million from Bank of America for the funding of three future city programs, Frye found the discrepancy.
According to the terms of the proposed loan, the money would be divvied up three ways: $18 million for automating 27,000 water meters; $10.8 million to replace old city vehicles, and $3 million to purchase 60,000 yard-waste containers. The decision on how to allocate the remaining $3.2 million would be left to the mayor.
When Frye asked questions about the proposed allocations, she was shocked to find out the $10.8 million allocated for the fleet services division was needed for this year’s budget.
“So, let me understand, we need to borrow money in order to pay for something that is in the current year’s budget for automotive equipment?” asked Frye.
The representative from the City’s fleet division attributed the current budget shortfall to when the division was consolidated and made responsible for replacing and maintaining police, fire, and general service vehicles.
“So, you’re basically $11 million over budget?” asked Frye. “Does it say that anywhere in this report? Could you just read me the part where it says that for 2009 you’re $10.8 million over budget?”
City staff members searched for a reference to the shortfall in the report but failed to find any mention that the money was intended to pay off the departmental debt.
Moments later, councilmember Sherri Lightner found a statement in report issued from the mayor’s office, claiming no fiscal considerations for 2009. Frye continued, removing her glasses to peer down at the city employee.
“Is there anything else that’s underwater that we need to borrow money for to true up the budget? Why is it that I have to sit here and go through this tortuous line of questioning? Why can’t this information be brought forward, like, right in front of my face? I’m tired of it. I can’t get straight freakin’ information. I’ve been sitting here year in and year out and people wonder why I get the way I do. Well, is it any wonder?”
Frye continued. “Once again I have to dig through this to find out, ‘Well, what does it really mean?’ It means that for this fiscal year, you’re $10.8 million underwater, and the reason we’re doing this in such a hurry is so you can quickly go get the money for the year-end budget closeout.”
After Frye concluded, councilmember Carl DeMaio offered a motion denying the loan proposal. That motion passed 7 votes to 1, with council president Ben Hueso the only one opposed to sending the proposal back to the mayor’s office, saying the City needs the equipment and has already spent money going through the loan process and will only have to spend more at a later date.