The upcoming council meeting includes a preliminary “provide direction to staff” discussion document where staff asks for direction associated with the upcoming budget process.
We spied the following noteworthy items:
First, the staff is recommending that the Town forgo nearly $100,000 in labor savings associated with Wedgewood’s lease of the Hacienda for weddings and events (stories here and here). Staff instead recommends redeploying those labor hours toward other initiatives. Fair enough, assuming there are bonafide initiatives to pursue and not enough time otherwise to pursue them (impossible to know, since the Town refuses any form of quantifiable performance management or project/task tracking). Nonetheless, it’s actually an improvement over staff’s earlier attempt to quietly forgo those savings and redeploy labor without even asking…and worse, actually suggesting (in a very misleading way) that all of Wedgewood’s lease payments be used to increase headcount even further (story here).
The other noteworthy item – consistent with the lack of forthrightness and fiscal responsibility we unfortunately have to constantly look out for – is a recommendation to allocate over $300,000 in COVID relief funds to “general government use”. This recommendation is essentially a $300,000+ slush fund with no stated purpose or intent, and should be ignored with the request soundly denied.
Residents should note that this recommended transfer of $300k+ in COVID relief funds essentially is being used to plug a $300k+ structural deficit that will result from town manager, director and staff raises the Council is poised to approve during the same meeting. Those increases include:
4% merit increase for the Town Manager (see our story here about our thoughts on that)
Up to 12.3% increases for department heads (some of whom are recent hires) to provide median regional salaries
A 5% COLA increase this year and 3% increases in the following two years for staffers
There is no indication that an effort to find cost savings or efficiencies has occurred to reduce or eliminate that deficit. This is combined with a persistent disregard for judicious spending and logical "make vs buy" decisions. Indeed, one recommendation from staff (in a separate agenda item associated with fire abatement) is for the town to purchase a $100,000 tractor attachment to mow weeds, an item the town would use only a few days per year. In contrast, the Moraga Orinda Fire District uses one for 20 to 30 days per year. They rent theirs because "math".
Broadly speaking, we note that Moraga's insatiable appetite persists for spending absolutely everything it brings in; there's not enough concern for creating new expense categories with ongoing operating costs but no associated money to fund them; there's a woeful lack of effort to identify and seize upon legitimate cost savings; and every single dime of tax revenue is spent before it's even received with a specific intent to do so irrespective of actual need. Whenever a Councilmember suggests reducing expenses or increasing savings (or not funding additional spending,) the Town Manager's stock answer is "tell me which critical services would you like to eliminate". This is a red herring comment that a majority of Councilmembers need to challenge directly.
Our message to the Town Council on this preliminary budget document is attached below.