Hidden in Plain Sight - Elk Grove to Hire Additional Attorney as City Council Contemplates Increasing Taxes

new attorney Elk Grove

February 16, 2018 |

At their most recent meeting, the Elk Grove City Council made several adjustments during their so-called mid-year budget reviews even through the mid-year point would have been on January 1. Regardless, the discussion on the matter was the second from last item on the agenda and was presented following a controversial hearing on the city's purchase of a residential dwelling to address homelessness in the city.

The presentation was made by the city's budget director, Shay Narayan, who covered some of the major points of the review. Narayan said revenues by the end of the fiscal year on June 30 would be $2.3 million ahead of budget, much of it attributed to sales tax revenues which are on pace to exceed budget by 2.8-percent.

"The large contributor to the high performance is sales tax first and foremost, looking at 2.8-percent above budget at year end," Narayan said. "Due to a strong economy, dining and auto sales continue to trend positively."

Part of the additional revenue, $900,000, is to be transferred to the city's unfunded accrued pension liability. Another significant portion of the extra income will be used to fund new positions, most notably a new staff attorney.

According to the job description on the city's website, the pay range, depending on the experience, ranges from $94,000 to $159,000. Along with fringe benefits, the standard rule of thumbs is the total cost of that employee will roughly double meaning taxpayers could be on the hook for up $318,000 for an additional staff attorney.

While judging whether or not City Attorney Jonathan Hobbs needs the additional staffing probably cannot be easily quantified - or maybe it can be based on any number of repeated missteps the city has made - the real scrutiny lies beyond Hobbs.

Following Narayan's discussion of the additional employees, he asked if there were any questions, followed by a brief pause, Mayor Steve Ly replied "no questions." Narayan responded, "perfect."

After the presentation was complete, there was only one question, and that came from Council Member Steve Detrick who asked about a $400,000 expenditure request for spatial analysis. Assistant city manager Jason Behrman said the money was needed to study facility needs at the police department and city hall.

While adjusting the mid-year, or in this case closer to a two-thirds of a year, budget is not unusual, this activity is not happening in the vacuum. In fact, it can be argued the Elk Grove City Council is negligent in their oversight responsibility.

First, there are the two supposed fiscal conservatives on the city council, Detrick, and his colleague Pat Hume. While Detrick did express a degree of skepticism with Behrmann's flimsy explanation for the $400,000, he was otherwise silent (see video below).

More surprising was Hume's silence. Longtime council observers will recall during his first few months on the city council in 2007, Hume excused himself from deliberation on how to allocate community block development grants from the federal government because they stood opposite his fiscally conservative, some might say Ayn Rand-like libertarian philosophy.

Of course, people, even politicians, change. Perhaps fiscal conservatives Detrick and Hume have fully bought into fellow Republican Donald Trump's style of governance and have no qualms running up what is estimated to be an estimated $1.5 trillion deficit over the next ten years to fund deep tax cuts for multi-national corporations and the top 1-percent richest Americans.

Beyond that, all of this is occurring while the city council is expected to start discussions on placing a sales tax hike on the ballot sometime this year. Last fall the city deployed goodwill ambassadors to gather information and followed that up with a recent "quality of life" survey designed to collect data to tailor the justification to voters.

The city even has a name for the proposed tax initiative - City of Elk Grove Quality of Life and Essential Services Measure. So while the city council, at least four of the five so far, seem to be salivating at the prospect of the revenue grab by portraying the sales tax hike as necessary to maintain services with a few goodies thrown in, when they have the opportunity to scrutinize additional expenditures, they stand mute. 

Readers may recall when Hobbs was hired as a city employee it was justified as a money saver. Instead of paying the high hourly rate to his former employer, hiring Hobbs would be cheaper.

Yet when the city council was presented at their last meeting with the prospect of adding an employee that could annually cost taxpayers more than $300,000, not one question was asked. For instance, why not ask Hobbs what exactly was the additional workload that requires another staff attorney.

Perhaps one of the city council members could have inquired if this addition was needed to cut down on outside counsel. If that were the answer, it would then not be unreasonable to hire the additional staff.

But not one inquiry was made, which makes you wonder if the city council members do not care, or just take the word of staff with the blind faith given by followers of televangelist. If it is the latter, we taxpayers are in deep crap. 

This all leads us back to the sales tax hike. 

Is the idea for the sales tax an idea generated by the city council, or are they just following the lead of city manager Laura Gill? After giving all those fee breaks to the developers that fund the city council members campaigns, does Gill realize the financial health of the city is on the precipice and a new revenue source is needed to prop up finances?     

Then again, if the city needs the revenue, why is the city council granting city staff carte blanche with every request presented? Why are they not asking questions and scrutinizing the budget with a fine tooth comb as part of their duty?

As the sales tax hike process unfolds, these are not unreasonable question to ask and taxpayers should demand thorough, detailed explanations because it seems we will not get those type of questions asked from the city council during their deliberations. We recognize it is hard to fight city hall, and they have far more resources at their disposal than mere taxpayers to push through this increase of a regressive tax that hurts lower-income families, but theses are questions that must be answered.  

Like the agenda matter that approved the additional staff attorney, the answers could be hiding in plain sight. 

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Eye on Elk Grove said...

The “yin and yang” Council members Pat Hume and Steve Detrick, though of opposite intellect, cannot exist without the other; they are never separate, serve on the city of Elk Grove’s Audit Committee.

Where were these two when the $400K expenditure item came before them in the pre-council briefings.? Why didn’t they pull the $400K item when Asst. City Manager Jason Behrmann said they haven’t put the future spacing needs out to bid?

Any reasonable manager of taxpayer money would have said, “Bring us the bids, what they entail and then we will deliberate over such an expensive expenditure to ascertain if it is a viable one.” Instead, it was “Okay, never mind then.”

So, who is really at fault here, the smart and shrewd yin Hume. . . or the yang Detrick?

D.J. Blutarsky said...

I trust our leaders because they run the city like a business and they all have MBAs. We were lucky to get them before Wall Street scooped them up!

Beefing up staff when the times are good makes good economic sense, because when times go bad, well then you won't have the money to hire them. Why didn't I think of that!

The economic development department says the city relies too much on sales tax, so let's raise the sales tax. Makes perfect sense to me!

And let's talk about retail leakage. Like a leaky pair of Depends, eventually they get saturated and the leakage does not become so noticeable. So keep spending and let's support our business whiz kids.

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