The Santa Clara City Council passed the two-year budget, and, after much debate, opted to split the baby in regards to cuts it imposed on police and fire services.
Although the Council had previously voted to cut $3.1 million a year to the police department in March, the conversation was reopened Tuesday night as part of the action to pass the 2021-22 and 2022-23 budget.
As part of drastic cuts made necessary by the pandemic, the Council had previously decided to take city employee’s recommendation to slash the police department’s budget by cutting 15 positions. However, while attempts to restore those cuts failed, the Council compromised by allocating $1.7 million per year to be used for personnel. It also restored two positions in the fire department.
While the budget is balanced through the next two years, City Manager Deanna Santana, told the Council the City’s deficit three years out increased from $14.6 million to $17.6 million with the two actions.
Just as in March, Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Council Members Kathy Watanabe and Anthony Becker opposed the cuts entirely while the remainder of the Council supported them. Although Council Members Suds Jain and Karen Hardy still opposed restoring some of the police department’s funding, the motion passed 5-2.
Gillmor, whose election campaigns have seen steady support from the police union, has staunchly supported maintaining police and fire services from the beginning, saying the choices the Council makes now will affect the City for years to come. Gillmor said she is “very confident” the economic recovery will go better than anticipated, and cutting public safety is not prudent given how fast the City is growing.
“We have to look forward,” she said. “If we don’t have a safe city, we don’t have anything.”
Jain said he felt uneasy allowing the City’s budget stabilization reserve — which will fund police services — to fall. The Council had already approved allowing that reserve to dip to 15%. If allowed to dip, that reserve could affect the City’s credit rating, never mind that should the City experience an earthquake or another catastrophe, it could prove devastating, he said.
In recognition of how essential public safety is to the City, cuts to police and fire services were already cut at lower rates than other City departments.
The Council made other exceptions to the budget by carving $10,000 from its grant program for the City’s ballet program and allocating $200,000 to the Roberta Jones Community Theatre. It also directed City employees to return with a resolution to put a measure on the November 2022 ballot to increase the business tax as well as 2% increase in hotel tax, as approved by voters last year.
Infrastructure Gets Attention
The Council also approved a 4% increase in the water and sewer rates. The increase amounts to $3.12 a month for the average consumer. That rate will go into effect at the start of July.
Maintenance at the Franklin Mall also saw approval provided outreach to the property owners continues. Jain has previously said the $14,200 paid for maintenance to upkeep the maintenance district is unfair to the City. However, in order to assess any money on the district for the year, the Council needed to approve the district assessment.
Mayor Gillmor recused herself from the discussion since she owns property in the Franklin Mall.
Benton Student Housing Development Re-up Nixed
A renewal of the exclusive negotiations rights for a housing project located at 500 Benton St. to be placed on a future agenda failed. The 2.6-acre site was set to play host to a student housing development to be built by Republic Metropolitan.
The Council narrowly rejected putting the item on a future agenda with a 4-3 vote.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, July 6 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.
Members of the public can participate in the City Council meetings on Zoom at https://santaclaraca.zoom.us/j/99706759306; Meeting ID: 997-0675-9306 or call 1(669) 900-6833, via the City’s eComment (available during the meeting) or by email to PublicComment@santaclaraca.gov