Claremont panel: Change needed to avoid deficit
Wes Woods II, Staff Writer
Created: 02/13/2011 07:01:42 AM PST

CLAREMONT – The city’s Economic Sustainability Committee has found that the Claremont’s current financial model is not sustainable.

The panel presented its findings to the City Council last week, projecting a $2.3 million deficit for 2015-16 with a worst- case scenario increasing the shortfall to $4 million.

Recommendations from the commission included increasing the city’s utility tax and requiring city employees to pay their own contributions to the California Public Employees Retirement System.

The nine-citizen committee, called the Mayor’s Ad Hoc Committee on Economic Sustainability, met 10 times from Sept. 8 to Jan. 24. According to the group’s 70-page report, with information from city staff members, their goal was to answer this question: “What would be the result to the city budget if we did nothing different?”

“The answer was an emphatic no, we cannot maintain the status quo,” committee chairman Michael Shea said to council members.

The report gave four recommendations:

The city should end its practice of paying the employee contribution and the city’s share to the PERS retirement system and each employee should pay the entire employee contribution. The committee recommends phasing in the employee contributions.

The council should provide a measure to voters asking for a 1.5 percentage-point increase in the utility-users tax. In five years, a committee should review the increase for continuance or expiration.

Eighteen specific policy recommendations for council adoption in the areas of future commercial development in Claremont; conservatively managing and reducing employee costs; and basic value statements to guide the City Council about economic sustainability.

The committee urged the city to act immediately and not delay making essential policy changes and expense or revenue decisions until the outlying years when deficits start to appear.

The committee used a six-year time frame ending in fiscal year 2016.

Some residents at Tuesday’s meeting felt the report did not go far enough on pensions.

“I’d like to see a budget that says what are we going to do with the pensions,” said resident Carolyn Gonzalez. “What are we going to do to raise money? What are we going to do to keep this city running properly? I’m going to be at the workshops … if we don’t ask the questions, we’re not going to get the answers.”

Councilman Corey Calaycay asked Shea if he had looked at the problem from a historical perspective, and Shea said no.

“Well, I can only relate to you what the Italian race driver does,” Shea said. “As soon as he gets in his car he gets gloves on, he reaches over, and he rips off the rear-view mirror, and he throws it out of the car, and he says, `What is beyond me is of no concern.’ What I mean by that is that we are here, and we need to move forward.

“And yes, the things we don’t want to lose about Claremont are the values, the perceptions of our city. But we are up against the hard economic facts now. If we don’t do something we’re going to lose them anyway.”

Former Mayor Judy Wright, in public comment, responded to Shea’s comments.

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