Daunting challenge for the city | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Daunting challenge for the city

City materials with unknown substances growing on them because of inadequate storage space, a police department operating with 10 percent less staff than a decade ago, a parks building barely standing — the South Lake Tahoe City Council was reminded Tuesday at its first budget meeting in months just how stretched its staff and resources have become.

Facing another shortfall of up to $3 million on a $48.3 million total budget, city staff managers brought to the table their list of programs, responsibilities, personnel and unmet needs.

Some managers didn’t even bother to make out their wish lists because of the presumptive shortfall.

Those that did are more desperate, Assistant City Manager Sue Schlerf said, reiterating the city as a multiservice agency trying to meet the varied needs of its citizens. She characterized staff’s make-do-with-what-you-have attitudes as mechanics who “work magic with bubble gum and baling wire.”

“We know staff is what got us to where we are today,” Mayor Brooke Laine said, calling the employees “gifted, talented and undercompensated.”

Laine piggybacked off recreation Superintendent Judy Crawford’s frank assertion.

Crawford even double-teamed her presentation with parks Superintendent Steve Weiss, illustrating a short-handed and rundown entity ordered two years ago to be self-sustaining in the interest of a budget crisis. Then the departments lost $500,000 in funding and three senior managers.

Its park shop located behind Campground By The Lake resembles a shed, with planks slapped on the exterior to keep the woodpeckers from providing too many peepholes.

“I don’t know how it stands up,” Weiss said.

Keeping up the morale in hard times has been tough, but there is resilience, Crawford said.

“We value what we do,” she said.

The city hopes to gain the value of its redevelopment investment at Park Avenue and at Stateline, but the full extent of tax revenue may come later than planned, the city’s redevelopment agency’s financial consultants pointed out.

But today’s reality of the lowest interest rates in 44 years may stem the tide of mounting redevelopment debt estimated at $100 million, Mill Valley consultant Mark Northcross said.

Northcross and Roseville consultant Don Fraser plan to return to the council next month with a proposal for the city to refinance its debt. They figured a 5 percent interest rate on a $33 million installment may save $500,000.

The city planned on renegotiating its financing package, but the bottom-dollar rates have stepped up the urgency of such a move, Northcross told the council.

And in these tough economic times, his teammate Fraser called the city’s intention of taking on the next phase of redevelopment efforts in building a convention center “problematic at this point.”

Northcross recommended the city use this time to concentrate on its current projects.

The projected $48.3 million working budget includes redevelopment debt, enterprise funds and capital projects.

The general fund budget — consisting of core departments and services — is $21.4 million. The variance between revenues and expenses amounts to $1.2 million but increases another $1 million without the California Public Retirement Employees System funds, Schlerf reminded the council. These state funds will eventually be unavailable to the city.

The city hopes to get an estimated $1.3 million windfall in November with passage of a ballot measure that increases motel room tax by at least $1 per room, per night and doubles the business and professions fees.

“We hope the voters look at Measure Z favorably,” Laine said, citing flat revenues. “We need the support of the community now.”

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