City of Claremont remains ‘cautiously optimistic’ on budget in second half of fiscal year

by Andrew Alonzo

While numerous topics were scheduled for discussion on Tuesday during Claremont’s first city council meeting for February, the city’s mid-year budget report was of particular importance since this marks the halfway point of a fiscal year within a global pandemic.

With many businesses shuttered due to coronavirus restrictions, sales tax revenue down some $307,000, and additional budgeted losses totaling over $1,000,000, Russ Binder, Claremont resident and host of Claremont Speaks, asked acting City Manager Adam Pirrie about any expected shortfalls in the general fund.

Remaining “cautiously optimistic” about the numbers given, predictions from the acting city manager about the report offered some hope for the second half of the fiscal year.

Mr. Pirrie said the city plans on ending the fiscal year with a balanced budget and no shortfalls predicted. The city’s general fund sits at $9,914,040 as of December 31, 2020, approximately $400,000 higher than last year.

He said automotive sales remained steady throughout the pandemic and may be capable of offsetting losses from the restaurant industry.

Although in-person shopping has taken a hit due to COVID-19, shopping taxes from online retailers including Amazon, WalMart, Wayfair and others have spiked in the city.

In addition, Claremont has also received its share, $442,000, of the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, which Mr. Pirrie said—along with stronger sales tax figures—may help mitigate additional losses of revenue.

Business tax revenue was budgeted to be around $100,000 less than the previous fiscal year; however, many stores are due for business license renewals between March and April, meaning business tax revenue may increase steadily or significantly depending on how many businesses renew. According to Mr. Pirrie, the full impact of COVID-19 on businesses may not be known until then.

Mr. Pirrie elaborated that although the city has only about 34.3 percent of its adjusted $56,280,841 2020-21 budget, Claremont is on par with where it needs to be in terms of funding. He said it is typical for cities to have less than half of their revenue budget at this point of the fiscal year. 

Although Mr. Pirrie admitted he cannot quantify a shortfall based on the present data, he said if one becomes evident now or in the future, he and the council will take time to address the issue.

A third-quarter budget report is scheduled for May.

Beyond the budget report, and an aggressive letter at the end of public comment demanding questions be answered regarding the city manager position, Claremont Mayor Jennifer Stark and fellow councilmembers conducted business as usual on Tuesday.

The meeting began with Mayor Stark addressing the council’s closed session meeting with various Claremont employee organizations regarding labor negotiations. Madame Mayor concluded the subject quickly since there was nothing to report.

Public comments were taken and heard and can be found at ClarmontCa.Granicus.com (comments begin at 1:21:30). None of the comments from the council or public delayed the adoption of any of the three items on the consent calendar, meaning the city council have set in motion the following resolutions: Resolution No. 2021- A resolution of the Claremont city council asking for $1.245,075.19 to be audited for claims and demands made on February 4, 2021; The approval of all council minute drafts of January 26, 2021; and the authorization for city council and the acting city manager to “execute an agreement with Vigilant Solutions in the amount of $26,383.70” for local police and the city to receive three updated license plate reader cameras.

The license plate camera system has been a crucial asset for the Claremont Police Department and the community since its installation back in April 2011. When images are captured, the pictures are converted to text format using optical character recognition (OCR) software which can aid law enforcement.

The cameras are said to have assisted in the recovery of over 400 stolen vehicles as well as the identification and apprehension of approximately 700 persons involved in various crimes, driving stolen vehicles, or having outstanding warrants, according to a city agenda report. The cameras are also used in situations involving wanted or missing persons.

Vigilant Solutions cameras were described by the report as specialized cameras which can capture license plates regardless of time of day.

By the second hour, the council was asked to give their feedback on various department work plan projects still in the process by both administrative and community services.

On the Administrative Service Department’s agenda, the city continued to make the move toward using cloud computing for data storage of all appropriate documents; L.A. County COVID-19 health orders and reopening information remained a high priority for the department; and 2021 redistricting discussions and plans were placed on hold as Census data continues to be analyzed.

Community Services Director Jeremy Swan rounding out the meeting with his agenda. Mr. Swan brought up items including that the city will soon have to renew or re-bid on various contracts and agreements including recycling material processing and street sweeping.

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