By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – As we have reported in the past, the city of Davis has been running somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 to $10 million in the hole in terms of the difference between what they need to spend and what they take in.
Contrary to a letter writer in the Enterprise, deferring maintenance is not a “money saver” for the city – it ends up costing more money because costs go up over time and things like road maintenance increase exponentially.
It would be interesting to see what the projected costs of road maintenance is now that the cost of oil and thus probably the cost of asphalt has shot up this year.
As the letter writer notes: “For a city that promotes biking and walking over driving, one would think such city would clean, repair and maintain its sidewalks and pathways.”
There are two sides of this coin of course – one is the lack of revenue that the city generates annually.
But the other is the huge hit that pensions continue to take on the city. I thought Rich Rifkin did a fairly nice just of illustrating it in his column last week.
“According to PERS, in the 2019-20 fiscal year, Davis paid $13.2 million for its pension obligations. That was 21.5 percent of the city’s $61.4 million general fund,” he writes and that’s not all, by 2022-23, that number will be $17.7 million, a 34.1 increase over those three years.
Rifkin argues: “Paying for these debts reduces the ability of Davis and Yolo County to fix our roads, fight fires, prevent crimes, police the streets, maintain parks and greenbelts, house the homeless, feed the poor, repair public buildings, vehicles and equipment and protect public health.”
That’s exactly the problem. I have been covering the pension issue off and on since 2008 and while the city has made some changes, the problem is not getting better, in fact it is getting worse. It is going to start impacting our quality of life.
As the letter writer notes, the fact that Davis cannot maintain its sidewalks, bike paths and streets is not only a quality of life issue, it is a public safety issue.
That gets me to the issue of the Social Services Department. The city is proposing for pay an additional ongoing amount of around $434,000 per year to make those changes.
Unlike the pension problem or the roads problem, finding $434,000 is not going to be huge problem for the city. They don’t have to find that money until the 2023-25 budget as it is.
Shouldn’t they know exactly where that money is coming from now, some have asked. Not really.
They basically have four options, none of which includes a new revenue measure. First, given that there are homeless and other services involved, they will look at grant funding. Second, they can either realize savings from retirements or from unfilled positions that are already budgeted. In fact, that is how they are funding some of the five positions that already exist on paper. Third, they can rearrange existing budgetary items to redirect money. Fourth, and the last resort, would be to actually cut other positions that might be of lower priority.
None of those four options are that difficult. They are waiting on grant funding, which is largely why they have not planned any further.
If you are concerned about the city budget, you should be much more concerned about the other things I have mentioned – increased pension costs, increased costs for asphalt, and that $8 to $10 million of unmet needs increasing rather than the easily handled marginal increase for public safety.
Some of our readers pointed out that there was a promise of savings for Crisis NOW diversion of policing to mental health responders.
I think there will be savings from Crisis NOW but it’s not going to materialize directly on a balance sheet. Allow me to explain.
CAHOOTS is a little different from what the city of Davis and Yolo County are entering into. In CAHOOTS you have a non-profit partner with the city of Eugene, that operates a mobile crisis response team.
It is true that “A cost-saving analysis from the Eugene Police Department found that CAHOOTS saves the city $2.2 million in officer wages.” However, that money is actually offset, prior to this year, the city contracted with CAHOOTS for $820,586 a year, and in 2020, CAHOOTS was operating at a $500,000 deficit and therefore asked for $1.8 million.
When Karen Larsen presented on Crisis NOW in May, she noted that in Maricopa County, Arizona, the fourth largest county in the nation, they estimate that the program saves 37 full time police officers and produces an overall cost saving of $37 million systemwide.
Despite all of this, we should really not expect a direct fiscal benefit there.
Part of the reason for that – Davis generally has 4-5 police officers in the city on duty at one time. When the city goes to the crisis manage team, that will for sure take away some calls for services, but realistically the city is not going to cut police officers as the result of that change.
If it does reduce costs, it will be reducing the need for increased staffing of the police department. For years, the city has wanted to add more cops to help patrol the downtown, address property crimes and other nuisance issues.
Shifting homeless services and mental health out of the police department will help with respect to increased demand for more cops, but it is not going to decrease the number of cops now.
Thus there may well be cost savings, but it is not going to show up on the bottom line of this year’s budget.
None of this should be read as playing down the overall fiscal problems in the city. But the fact is that we can take the hit and either find money through grants or offset the costs in other ways fairly easily.