How Bad Was Our Financial Situation in 2015-2016, Under The Leadership of Mayor Galbraith?
Does anyone remember reading these headlines, week after week, in the St Helena Star, and the Napa Register, beginning in late 2014?
“ST. HELENA’S PERPETUAL MONEY PROBLEMS” Oct. 2014
“St. Helena’s Budget Deficit Grows by $526,000” May 2015
“St. Helena Considers Tax Increase to Ease Financial Problems” Nov. 2015
“Report Spells Out St. Helena’s Financial Woes” Feb. 2016
“St. Helena Might Have to Repay Millions in Flood Grants” Jan. 2016
“City Used Some of Grant Money for Ineligible Expenses”
“FINANCIAL HOUSE OF HORRORS: RIGHTING THE SHIP IN ST. HELENA” July 2016
“Taking Steps to Stabilize City Government” July 2016
“St. Helena Working to Dig Out of a Financial Mess” July 2016
“City’s Long Term Revenues Barely Keeping up with Expenses”
“No. 8 Story of the Year: Financial Turmoil in
St. Helena” Dec. 2016
“Trying to Regain Financial Footing” Dec 2016
“St. Helena’s Catastrophic Mismanagement” Feb. 2016
“St Helena’s Continuing Problems” Oct. 2016
“A Solution to St. Helena’s Revenue Problems” Oct. 2017
St Helena’s City finances were in the “tank”, and “financial doom” was on the minds of many.
During this period, city officials, as well as the Chamber of Commerce, were painting a very bleak picture for all of us.
We needed to pass a tax increase, boost tourist trade, and needed to seriously consider selling off public properties to raise revenue. We needed to raise water/sewer rates to get the cash to pay for infrastructure needs, and we were told to prepare ourselves for a reduction in services, (such as library and recreation).
When the Christmas decorations in town weren’t up the day after Thanksgiving, this past December, talk on social media sites was : “Well, what do you expect”…..”We have no money”….”The city is in a critical financial situation”.
Obviously this ‘doomsday rhetoric’ was, as late as this past December, still on everyone’s mind.
WERE WE REALLY IN THAT BAD OF SHAPE?
It’s odd that during this same period of “doom and gloom”, full time staffing positions in the City rose 45%. We now have 152 full time and part time, employees working for our city, an increase of 12%. (These numbers were taken off of the “Transparent California” website).
The increase in full time positions according to St Helena’s Budget records was 22%. (Not sure why the numbers don’t match)
How does a City, that is facing financial disaster, justify a jump in its staffing even 22%? One would think that this was a time for expenses to be cut.
Our city has not grown in physical size, and during the last ten years, the population has only increased between a 2-3%.
But we needed all this additional staffing?
HOW BADLY WAS ST HELENA REALLY DOING DURNG THIS PERIOD OF “FINANCIAL DEFICIT”?
So while our “ship is sinking”, we’re taking on more sailors, and to help “right that ship”, beyond increasing staff size, we paid our City Attorney, over $950K in legal fees. (According to the State of California wage figures, the highest paid City Attorneys in the state make around $430K/year, and that includes overtime, and benefits). These top wage earners are attorneys from LARGE cities like Palmdale/San Jose/ Campbell…..not small towns, with 6000 residents.
Surely the Mayor, will justify this outrageous salary, in part, by talking about all the litigation the City faces each year. So, my question would be, why all the problems with law suits? And why is St Helena so often cited for being “out of compliance”? Why do we need to pay nearly a million dollars/year in legal fees, to untangle city mistakes? $950K is what it costs to run our local Fire Department for a year.
Where’s the oversite, and who’s in charge?
Thankfully our latest financial report, out in Dec 2017, the California Municipal Health Report, showed that we weren’t in the awful financial state portrayed by city officials over the last several years. We actually have a 35% reserve in the General Fund. (For a city’s financial heath to be considered ‘healthy’, they suggest at least a 15-20% General Fund reserve).
Going back to our “Doom and Gloom” years, 2015-2016, where one would expect to find negative numbers, the financial reports showed General Fund Reserves of 33.96%, and 40.69%….higher numbers than this year’s reserve.
Mayor Galbraith, were things ever really as bad as they were portrayed?
How long were we really in a critical financial state, if ever?
Why didn’t you let the residents know that we were more solvent than the news was portraying?
Why did you lead everyone to think we were on the verge of bankruptcy, when if in fact we weren’t?
Have you ever considered some of the negative consequences to this prolonged “dooms day” rhetoric? Could it have actually led to businesses leaving town. Who would want to invest in a town where financial stability was weak?
Is it good business sense, for a city to try to negotiate successful business deals, like selling their most valuable assets, when they’re claiming to be financially strapped, and appearing desperate?
We are fully aware of the fact that we are facing huge challenges in the years to come….expensive capital improvement projects, a downtown littered with empty storefronts, water rates at a level few working class residents can afford, traffic impacts, and no current General Plan.
But, misleading the public, for over two years, is in no way a way to move forward, and certainly no way to regain public confidence, and trust.
Now is the time for communication, transparency, and honesty.