• ‘Town Hall’ meeting on budget questions

    More than 100 interested citizens, City staff and officials heard Mayor Dan Cort say, “We’re not going to make these decisions without you” at a town hall style meeting held on Wednesday, March 25 at the Pacific Grove Community Center.

    He was talking about the need for cost cuts and revenue enhancements in view of a $1.3 million expected budget shortfall for the upcoming budget year.

    budget-meet2w.jpgAfter explaining briefly how revenue shortfalls such as declining transient occupancy tax (TOT) and permit fees have affected the City’s bottom line, City Director of Management and Budget Jim Becklenberg asked the group to consider four points when discussing options the City has in facing the budget problem:

    If essential services are threatened, can we afford the non-essential ones?

    If the City can’t pay for all amenities, how can we preserve them?

    How to we balance “Pacific Grove character” with economic health?

    How do we attract and retain a high quality workforce with the resources to compete?

    Becklenberg pointed out where the City would have been had citizens not passed Measure U (sales tax enhancement) and had the City not begun to build reserves, which were lacking in the $1.6 million budget crisis of last year. “This year’s budget is balanced,” he added.

    He pointed out some cost reduction options that staff and committees will be examining: elimination of vacant positions on City staff; furloughs, pay cuts, and layoffs of City staff; suspension or deferring of contract projects the City has already planned; consolidation of overhead services with other agencies, similar to what has been done with the Pacific Grove Fire Department and what is being considering for the Building Department; service reductions.

    But the meeting essentially focused on revenue options, and the gathered crowd was asked to help “brainstorm” some solutions.

    Suggestions already on the table include economic development, with discussions about the Holman Building, the American Tin Cannery, and storm water; removing hurdles to building, zoning and development progress such as Measure C; and hosting more regional events.

    The City is examining recreation fees and facility rentals as well as storm water fees, and area where Cort pointed out that the City is lagging and has already had to pay for very expensive lawsuits.

    The City is also looking at parking meters downtown and on Ocean View Boulevard and is examining the practice of in-kind support for fund-raising and other events. Becklenberg also pointed out that the City’s business license tax has not been adjusted since 1970 and that the City could look at raising those fees to be more in line with the Consumer Price Index.

    When the public had their turn, two themes emerged as the most popular: Enhance Pacific Grove’s business atmosphere to bring in more tax revenue and relax requirements for transient occupancy, which is currently limited to 30 days.

    Many speakers suggested that the City look at ways to bring more diverse businesses to town and to fill vacant storefronts. Becklenberg acknowledged the need for anchor businesses, and said that they are examining the current anti-fast food and franchise ordinances. It was suggested that the City reduce government complexity faced by potential entrepreneurs who wish to establish businesses in town.

    Rhonda Navarro of Monterey Bay Property Management said that the 30-day restriction on vacation rentals is hurting the City’s TOT revenue. She said that she has had to divert thousands of customers to other Peninsula cities because of the restriction, and that Pacific Grove could regain its share of lost TOT dollars by lowering the minimum stay requirement to seven days.

    Dan Miller concurred, saying that he has calculated the city could see upward of $1 million in additional TOT revenue.

    Pebble Beach has been chosen as the site for the 2010 U.S. Open golf tournament. Other annual events include the AT&T Pro-Am, the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance, and five internationally famous races at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca, each of which brings thousands of visitors to the Peninsula for short stays.

    Other suggestions involved the Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course, arguably the jewel in the City’s revenue crown. A marketing program was suggested, and ways to rent the clubhouse facility. Frank Pierce suggested licensing At&T to build a cell phone tower near the golf course, where – others concurred – cell phone reception is poor.

    Richard Stillwell, and others, asked the City to look at returning the fire department to Pacific Grove and suggested laying off the chief and assistant chief, using more volunteers, and answering medical emergency calls with an ambulance alone instead of a fire engine.

    Ron Shenk suggested that Pacific Grove not hire a new city manager, or hiring only a part-time one, and giving the reins instead to Director of Management and Budget Jim Becklenberg.

    Another popular idea was parking enforcement, and one speaker went so far as to suggest a volunteer squad which would photograph violators and give the photos to City staff, stating that the idea had worked well in another city where she lived.

    Closing the meeting, Dan Cort reiterated that times like these are “opportunities for change to make the future better.” Becklenberg invited comment by phone and by email, and said that the City would be looking at suggestions in time for the April 15 City Council meeting.

    His email address is jbecklenberg@ci.pg.ca.us and his telephone number is 831-648-3170.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 27, 2009

    Topics: Front PG News


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