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Healdsburg
June 20, 2024

Preliminary City Budget Presented for Suggestions, Revisions

Scant public attendance at special council meeting on two-year budget

A special five-hour meeting time was blocked out for the Healdsburg City Council on Monday night this week to allow plenty of time for council review, and public comment, on a proposed two-year budget for the city. It even started an hour early, at 5pm, in the usual meeting room at City Hall.

But barely an hour and a half passed before Mayor David Hagele gaveled the meeting over, at 6:35pm. For most of the meeting there were only one or two “citizens” in the meeting room, though city managers and staff were well represented as they heard the preliminary numbers as presented by Finance Director Katie Edgar.

““While attendance was light last night, our neighbors’ feedback was very robust during the entire budget process,” said Hagele the next day, referring to a lengthy public comment process that included an unusual app that allowed anyone to modify the budget to their own priorities.

Prior to the meeting, City Manager Jeff Kay outlined its purpose, to estimate “revenues and expenditures for each of our major funds as well as preliminary recommendations for discretionary, one-time expenditures (mostly capital projects).”

He added, “In short, once we match the available revenues with the costs to maintain day-to-day operations, we will have a limited pot of money left for new projects or programs, we’ll be looking for City Council direction on the recommendations so that we can fold them into a recommended budget for council consideration later.”

Edgar’s report, detailed and precise as usual, ran through those department numbers, with several notable points. The overall economy affects the city’s primary economic drivers—tourism and the wine industry, sales of automobiles and construction materials, and real estate transactions.

Decreases in revenue from taxes and construction permits leads to less available discretionary funding in the near term, Edgar reported, though the city’s income from the TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) is expected to recover after 2025 with the opening of the new Appellation Hotel and the reopening of Hotel Duchamp.

A windfall of sorts comes from a $150,000 state grant for the next two years to support the city’s cannabis project, money not available until the recent approval of two dispensaries in town.

Expenses and Allocations

Some noteworthy increases in expenses include a jump from $158,000 to $280,000 in City Council costs, largely due to a recent state law allowing an increase in the salary of councilmembers, from the current $150 a month to $950 per month. The last time the Council adjusted its salary was in 1992.

There’s also an anticipated $45,000 for each of the next two years for public safety cameras for the Police department, a similar cost for Fire department rescue equipment, and $125,000 for a new roof for the fire station.

The Community Services department, which is substantially funded by TOT, works with an $8 million-plus budget. Some of the special initiatives, other than general operations, that will be included in the near term include various deferred maintenance projects at the Healdsburg Library, the Healdsburg Museum, the Community Center and the Senior Center, plus pathway lighting repair.

The Foley Pavilion will also see a substantial allocation for its IT system, however its potential for special event operations is not supported. Likewise the purchase of the Swim Center, and upgrades to Recreation Park, Giorgi Park and West Plaza Park are also excluded.

These and similar compromises in designing what Edgar called a budget with “structural integrity,” where expenses do not exceed revenue, were evident throughout the budget preview and discussion.

But one allocation positioned as an included initiative, $50,000 a year to continue the relatively new Arts & Culture grants, was criticized as disappointing by Mark McMullen, one of only two people who commented at the meeting (and he did so three times).

“Fifty thousand dollars will not ‘get it done,’” he said. “We need a substantial increase in this line item so that the staff and the Arts & Culture Commission have the resources to stimulate our local community and the economic engine that is our creative economy.”

He received some support from Councilmember Ariel Kelley, who in her concluding observations suggested the commission be given more leverage in deciding how to allocate their budgeted money, though whether or not that allocation will increase remains to be seen.

The only other public comment came from “Little League mom” Cindy Beth, who pleaded to fund night lighting and netting at the city’s baseball fields.

The next step in the budget process comes when Edgar and the financial department take into account the council’s own suggestions and recommendations. A revised and final budget is expected to be presented to the City Council at its June 3 meeting.

Learn more at healdsburgwineandfood.com/

3 COMMENTS

  1. Why is the City Council in the Arts & Culture business? I’m glad the City Council members got a raise but why does Healdsburg even need a City Council? Wouldn’t a City Manager be enough? Perhaps the best news from the meeting is how few people were there trying to get more money from the city taxpayers for their special projects.

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  2. I’m not surprised that so few attended . During the utilities/water increase meeting a gentleman stood up and declared the water report was incorrect. He wanted some time to audit and correct the #’s. He was dismissed in short order as was his report. Councilman Hagele declared he stood by the city report. This is how anyone who disagrees get treated. It’s full steam ahead with the council agenda. Maybe a pat on the head and a thankyou.
    Anne Goebel

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    • Anne: A wise man in Healdsburg told me years ago, “Those clowns down at City Hall are gonna do what they’re gonna do.”

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