Midyear city budget report: Council directs city to hire additional police dispatcher if Measure F passes

The City Council directed staff at its Feb. 20 meeting to immediately hire an additional emergency dispatcher if voters approve Measure F, a proposed renewal and increase of the City Services Tax on the March 5 election ballot.

The City Council also unanimously approved the use of $125,000 from the city’s General Fund to cover fire department overtime and approved the re-allocation of $100,000 from the public works department to cover part-time salaries in the planning and building department due to delays in the rollout of a new building permit system.

Even with these adjustments, as of December, revenue and expenditures are largely on track with what was budgeted despite a significant drop in year-over-year revenue from the Real Estate Transfer Tax – the amount received as of December was 27% lower than during the same period last year, the city said.

The city’s Finance Director Mike Szczech told Councilmembers that the city always budgets conservatively with regard to the transfer tax because it is so volatile. “At one point it went down 40% during the recession,” he said, before peaking in 2021 — 50% over any other year for a $6.2 million high.”

Staffing in Piedmont’s 911 dispatch center has remained unchanged since 1978, the city said in a press release. “Identified by Police Chief Jeremy Bowers as the single greatest resource needed to support community safety, additional dispatch staffing is the City’s top service improvement priority.” the city said. Residents also voiced support for additional police dispatchers in public meetings led by the police chief last fall when crime began to rise in Piedmont and surrounding cities.

As part of the FY 2023-24 annual budget adoption in June 2023, City Council approved the hiring of one additional dispatcher in FY 2023-24 and directed staff to revisit the hire of a second dispatcher at the midyear financial review.

The expense associated with the first twelve months of the position is funded by the Citizens Option for Public Safety (COPS) Fund, state funding for “front line capacity enhancement activities.” The city says the first year of employment for a dispatcher can be supported by the COPS Fund. In subsequent years, the General Fund will need to assume an annual cost burden of approximately $140,000 per dispatcher, according to the city.

If Measure F passes, the city will begin the hiring process for a second new dispatcher. If it fails, the city will need to begin contingency planning for associated service level reductions.

Fire Department overtime: The department has faced high overtime costs for several years due to the need to backfill vacant positions. At one point, the department was down seven firefighters, said the Szczech, but was able to fill all the vacancies this past summer, bringing the department to full staffing for the first time in over five years. Because of this, the city said it does not anticipate similar overtime needs going forward.

Recreation programming: In the Recreation Department, both revenues and expenditures were substantially higher than budgeted due to strong enrollment in summer camps and the success of Camp Kaleidoscope, a new program launched in Fall 2023, said Szczech. Camp Kaleidoscope alone brought in an additional $200,000 in revenue according to the city. Recreation programming is cost recovery, so the overall impact on the City budget is neutral.

Planning and Building permit support: On Tuesday, the City Council allocated an additional $100,000 to fund part-time staff in the Planning and Building Department to support the continued reduction of permit-processing turnaround times. According to the budget report, a new software system — eTRACKit — was supposed to launch in July 2023 but did not go live until December 2023. That delay, coupled with additional staff time to troubleshoot the new system, has not yet reduced workload and led to the increase in personnel costs of approximately $100,000.

The City is also in the process of engaging an outside consultant to conduct a detailed staffing and operational analysis of the department’s processes.

Budget oversight and accountability
Before coming to Council, the mid-year budget update was reviewed by the City’s Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee, a volunteer resident body composed of experienced finance professionals who advise the City Council on budgetary matters.

The Committee plays a critical role in shaping the City’s budget and helping the City plan for future needs. Holding a minimum of four meetings a year – which are open to the public – the Committee reviews the annual budget before Council consideration, at mid-year, and at year end. Additionally, the Committee conducts an in-depth review of the City’s 10-year financial plan as well as longer-term obligations including 25-year projections of pension liabilities. The Committee also reviews the rate and need for the parcel tax based on 10-year projections.

The city says Piedmont has long budgeted conservatively, with a lean staffing model focused on providing high quality core services – police and fire response, street and sidewalk maintenance, parks, and recreational facilities. The city also maintains an 18% General Fund reserve, intended to provide stability in the event of a natural disaster or other unforeseen circumstance that disrupts revenue flow. (Szczech told Councilmembers Tuesday night that represents about two months of operating budget and that cities TK. )

You can view the full midyear budget update HERE.

2 thoughts on “Midyear city budget report: Council directs city to hire additional police dispatcher if Measure F passes

  1. While there are variations in the Transfer Tax, below is a table of actual amounts taken in and the budgeted amount. The average excess is $1,354, 324 annually which is a bit above the $1,055,048 average. The Transfer Tax has a long history of relative stability if looked at in three, five or ten year increments.

    TY Amount Budgeted Excess
    2013-14 $4,001,012 $2,800,000 $1,201,012
    2014-15 $3,901,252 $2,800,000 $1,101,252
    2015-16 $3,118,597 $2,800,000 $318,597
    2016-17 $3,522,079 $2,800,000 $722,079
    2017-18 $3,845,198 $2,800,000 $1,045,198
    2018-19 $3,819,816 $2,800,000 $1,019,816
    2019-20 $3,602,616 $2,800,000 $802,616
    2020-21 $6,286,618 $2,800,000 $3,486,618
    2021-22 $5,981,156 $3,200,000 $2,781,156
    2022-23 $4,464,897 $3,400,000 $1,064,897

    Totals $42,543,241 $29,000,000 $13,543,241

  2. Should F fail, the only “contingency planning” City Council need do is put a revised tax on the November 2024 or March 2025 ballot. This is what has traditionally been done in Piedmont when a measure fails on the first ballot, resulting in no service reductions. That revised tax measure could be properly scaled to pay for only the dispatchers so that other needed tax dollars go to the school district, which is considering a tax increase for November 2024 to avoid service cuts.

    The mid-year city budget report shows that there will be a $1M surplus at the end of this fiscal year, more than enough to pay for the two dispatcher positions over the 4 year term of the parcel tax. Is there really a need for a tax increase?

    One of the recommendations of the BAFPC is that the city and school district should review future revenue needs and coordinate necessary tax increases. Given the city’s burgeoning surplus and the district’s declining revenue, now seems like a good time to do that before considering more taxes.

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