City makes case to residents for Measure CR support
With weeks to go until the November 5 election, the city is trying to get the word out about why Claremonters should vote for Measure CR, the proposed three-quarter of a cent sales tax increase.
Part of that outreach was last Saturday’s informational meeting at the Hughes Center, where about 20 residents gathered to hear from the city and ask questions.
Finance Director Adam Pirrie told the crowd the current budget deficit had led to a number of projects being put off or removed because of funding. Tree removals and tree trimming schedules have had to be cut back, vacant positions in the city are left open, and landscape and maintenance improvements have been deferred.
The city anticipates a $2.8 million deficit by the 2023-2024 fiscal year.
“So unless we do something to address the budget shortfalls we anticipate, we may need to make significant cuts to programs and services that the city offers,” Mr. Pirrie said.
Some programs that could possibly be cut to balance future budgets include animal control services contracts, police K9 programs, additional tree trimming reductions, Village maintenance, youth and after school programs and senior services.
Assistant City Manager Chris Paulson stressed that Measure CR was put forth simply to maintain the current level of service in Claremont.
“If this passes, this is not an opportunity to go on a hiring spree, this is not an opportunity to launch a bunch of new projects,” he said. “This is to maintain the Claremont that we’ve all come to love and know.”
Skepticism reigned during the question and answer session. One resident hearkened back to the failed takeover of the water system and noted that speaking for himself, “there’s an issue of trust and disgruntlement” with the city.
City Manager Tara Schultz noted the city pays $234,000 annually towards Golden State Water Company as part of the settlement from the eminent domain loss, and while it would be nice to still have that cash in hand, “it’s not going to change the fact that we have a structural deficit that’s growing.”
Her first priority as city manager, she said, was to make Claremont financially stable, and Measure CR is a way to do that.
“And I won’t be in Claremont forever, but I definitely want to know that when I leave here someday, that you guys are okay, because that’s important to me,” she said. “It’s important to the staff and the council as well.”
In response to a resident who asked if a deficit was going to be perpetual, Ms. Schultz acknowledged that CR wouldn’t completely eliminate the deficit in 2023—the $2.5 million that its estimated to generate comes up short of the $2.8 million projected deficit that year—and the city is looking at other sources of revenue for the future, including an possible Mazda dealership that may move into an empty space on Auto Center Drive.
Michael Camacho brought up a possible parcel tax the LA County Fire Department is floating, claiming that if Claremont passes CR, another tax could come down the pike.
“So we keep paying more and more money and I’m getting frustrated because it seems to never end,” he said.
Ms. Schultz said the city couldn’t control what other agencies do, but noted that CR would “reach that 10.25 cap. So that’s it for us if it passes.” If there were other bonds presented to voters in the future, there would be discussions then.
She also said the council would be forming an ad hoc budget committee and putting together a schedule to go along with the budget review process, starting in January.
Some questions from residents diverted to other topics, such as contracting with the Los Angeles County Sheriff.
Amanda Sabicer, who was part of the Future Financial Opportunities Committee (FFOC) that initially recommended the sales tax, saying that other options the committee was considering included selling the Hughes Center or other assets but balked after realizing it would take away daycare and other programs.
She advocated for more education on how a city budget is tabulated—it is more that just taking from one pot and putting it into another, she said.
“I’m voting for this measure, and I’m voting for it with the hope and maybe some level of confidence that we could enter into a new era in this conversation,” she said.