Mayor Plans “Big Ask”; Tornek Proposes New 3/4 Cent City Sales Tax Ballot Measure

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By EDDIE RIVERA, Community Editor | Videography and Photography by BRANDON VILLALOVOS

6:34 am | January 17, 2018

Following through on the common theme of his two previous ‘State of The City’ speeches, Mayor Terry Tornek said Tuesday evening that he has been “trying to alert everyone that the day was fast approaching when we could not rely on our current sources of revenue to adequately pay our bills.”

“That day has arrived,” said the Mayor.

Tornek then announced that he would be asking the City Council to approve a ballot measure for a .75 cent per dollar (3/4 quarters of one cent per dollar) sales tax increase on the November 2018 ballot.

Calling the increase a “big ask,” the mayor said that the tax would generate $21 million annually and “allow us to avoid cutting services too deeply and will also generate capital funds for reinvestment in critical facilities such as fire stations.”

Mayor Tornek also proposed that one third of the proposed tax be shared with the Pasadena Unified School District, which is facing its own “significant” budget challenges.

“If they are to continue their efforts to improve educational outcomes for our children, they need our support,” the Mayor explained. “We cannot have a great city without a great public school system.”

Tornek, introduced by Vice-Mayor John Kennedy, following a performance by the John Marshall Fundamental choir, spoke at the new John Marshall Fundamental School gymnasium, a newly completed projected built with Prop TT funds.

According to Mayor Tornek, city expenses will outstrip income by $3.5 million in Fiscal Year 2019.

As detailed in the Mayor’s address, of the $237 million earned in general revenue last year, Pasadena spent $71.6 million on police, an increase of 0.42%. The City also spent $45 million on the Fire Department, an increase of 2.74%. Public Works spending was down 9.24%, from $23.8 million  to $21.6 million, and spending for libraries was up 3.74%, from $10.7 to $11.1 million.

Contributions to CalPERS — the City’s employee retirement system — have steadily climbed, with costs projected to double from a steady $33 million from 2011-2015, the Mayor reported, and will climb from there through 2021, to a projected $65 million, essentially doubling in six years.

At the same time, said the mayor,  the City made cost reductions by eliminating some job positions, cutting General Fund expenditures by $19.2 million, and reducing some local transit services.  The City also managed to increase its “Rainy Day Fund” from $46 million in 2008, to $52 million currently, even while drawing reserve funds during “the great recession” from 2008 to 2012.

 The Mayor also noted that the City spends nearly $1 million a year on sidewalk repair, “but there is $20 million worth of work to do.”

“Unless we increase our revenue, we must make material reductions in City services, including public safety,” said Tornek, in explaining the sales tax proposal.

Mayor Tornek also noted positive developments in the City, noting that the One Arroyo Committee, which has been “hard at work” developing ideas for priority projects, funding ideas and implementation methods, will be presenting its ideas to City Council next month.

“We hope to begin making positive changes this coming year,” said Mayor Tornek.

The City will also strive to become a recognized Early Learning City by 2025, said, the Mayor. That effort would be led by the Pasadena Public Library Department, he said.

Acknowledging other positive developments, Mayor Tornek recognized the new Hyatt Hotel, the HMRI research building, the Kaiser Permanente medical school and the Chen Neurological Center at Caltech, as well as the advent of the Doheny Eye Institute, which will be moving onto the former Avery headquarters campus off Orange Grove Boulevard near Walnut Street.

Mayor Tornek also saluted the new annual Arroyo Seco Weekend Music and Art festival, which he said will be “a longtime contributor to the financial health of the Rose Bowl.”

Tornek’s address seemed well-received overall. However, resident Morey Wolfson commented that he would have liked to have seen “more of a discussion of quality of life issues,” including environmental issues, and the City’s proposed Climate Action Plan. Wolfson also said that would like to see more discussions of “connectivity” within and around the Arroyo and Rose Bowl.

The Mayor’s speech was interrupted momentarily by a small group of Black Lives Matter Pasadena members led by activist Jasmine Abdullah Richards, who shouted at the Mayor as he spoke (see related story). Richards and others were at the event to protest an incident during which to Pasadena police officers used such force to arrest a black motorist that the man, who was never charged with committing a crime, suffered a broken leg.  Mayor Tornek told Richards that she was interrupting “information for the community,” and that if she did not stop, she would be arrested and jailed. Richards left the gymnasium.