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Santa Clara City Desk: May 29, 2013

Santa Clara Cultural and International Commissions Merge

Last week the City Council agreed to combine the Cultural Advisory Commission and the International Exchange Commission into a single, new Santa Clara Cultural Commission. The International Commission has not had a quorum for several months, and thus, been unable to meet. Many of the two commissions activities overlap – for example, the International Commission has sponsored many art exhibits and concerts featuring students from Santa Clara’s Sister Cities.

“With Santa Clara attracting international attention as the new home of the 49ers and host to the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl, the merger comes at an ideal time to promote and advance our city’s unique and diverse cultural resources,” says City Council Member Pat Mahan, who was part of the Council ad hoc committee advising the change.

There’s also an opening on the Santa Clara Parks & Recreation Commission, the team that’s responsible for Santa Clara’s Art & Wine Festival. Meetings are held at 7 p.m. the third Tuesday of the month in the staff conference room at City Hall. You can get an application from the City Clerk’s office or at www.santaclaraca.gov/index.aspx?page=1158. Applications are due June 26 at 5 p.m. and interviews will be held July 2 at 6 p.m. in City clerk’s office lobby at City Hall.

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2013-2014 Budget: Here Comes the Sun

Budget-wise, recent years have sure been a “long cold lonely winter” for Santa Clara along with most other California towns. But it looks like that’s about to change, with Santa Clara’s 2013-2014 budget in balance and registering up-ticks in the City’s revenue.

The City’s operating budget is up by $63 million (11 percent) to $641 million from 2012-2013’s $564 million. Santa Clara’s general fund budget is up by $6.5 million (4.3 percent) to $158 million.

The key drivers of this year’s budget are rising pension costs, and the RDA dissolution, which puts more than $13 million (9 percent) in general fund lease revenues at risk, according to City Finance Director Gary Ameling. As a precaution, this year’s budget continues cost savings measures from previous years, and takes advantage of stronger revenue from other areas to reduce the amount relied upon from rents and leases by $6.3 million. Any revenue beyond the reduced budget will be deposited into the General Contingency Fund.

The budget also includes an additional 12.5 City employees (making a total of 1004.5 employees).

Most of these are in Santa Clara’s electric utility, and some of the new hires will replace outside consultants at a lower total cost to the city, Ameling explained. An additional 4.5 new positions slated for the new Northside branch library, which is scheduled to open in December. However, the city also consolidated street services with the public works department; saving Santa Clara’s general fund $600,000.

Business-to-business sales tax is Santa Clara’s single largest revenue source, and that continues to grow for the third year in a row. Sales taxes for 2013-2014 are expected to grow 14 percent to $48 million. Property taxes will also continue to grow 10 percent this year as appraisals are adjusted to the recent increases in real estate values.

Despite all the good news, there are storm clouds on the budget horizon in the form of relentlessly growing pension costs.

California’s public employee retirement system, CalPERS, is reducing its unfunded liabilities at the same time it’s revising its actuarial policies, based on demographic studies showing that retirees are earning higher salaries, retiring earlier, and living longer. Further, CalPERS is forecasting its returns more conservatively.

For Santa Clara, the bottom line is a $1.8 million (8.5 percent) increase in the city’s pension costs in 2013-2014 – a total of $23.1 million – and roughly $4 to $5 million annually in the next five years. These increases, combined with salary adjustments based on the consumer price index, and the expiring of employee furloughs in 2015, show Santa Clara’s budget returning to deficit in 2017.

A public hearing for adopting the budget is slated for the June 11 City Council Meeting, at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at Santa Clara City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave.

You can find the 2013-2014 proposed budget the city website (www.santaclaraca.gov), and at the Central City Library. Or go to it directly via tinyurl.com/SantaClara2012-2013. In coming weeks we’ll look in depth at the Santa Clara’s Five-Year Plan and the WEEKLY’s annual city salaries analysis.

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