'State of the City is Good' Says Mayor Tornek

In a reversal of the foreboding outlook delivered at last year’s address, Pasadena’s mayor Thursday night speech looked ahead five years with optimism and confidence

Published : Friday, January 18, 2019 | 5:47 AM

Upbeat but pragmatic, Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek said Thursday, “The state of our city is good, and equally important, the trend line is positive.”

Tornek made the remarks as part of his 2019 “State of the City” address before a packed Pasadena High School gymnasium audience, following a dance performance by the PHS LEARNs Orchesis Dance Team and an introduction by Vice Mayor Elect Tyron Hampton.

Hampton noted that it was the Mayor’s fourth “State of the City” address at a local school, “demonstrating [the Mayor’s] commitment to education.”

Thanking Pasadena for overwhelmingly passing Measures I and J, which will add an estimated $14 million in yearly revenue to the City’s coffers, Tornek dove right into the numbers.

The City’s General Fund Revenues for 2019 are approximately $245.8 million, the mayor said. Its four biggest revenue sources are property tax, accounting for $64.9 million; sales tax, accounting for $35 million; Utility Users tax, accounting for $27.8 million; and Transient Occupancy Tax received from hotels, at $17.5 million.

New development and property taxes will continue to be the City’s largest sources of revenue, said the mayor, while new Measure I money — generated from a municipal sales tax hike of ¾ percent — will begin to arrive in July.

In terms of spending, said the Mayor, Police Department costs will rise 7.6% to $77.3 million; Fire Department will rise 6.89%, to $48.1 million, Public Works will remain the same at $21.6 Million, and Libraries will rise 3.6% to $11.5 million. Mayor Tornek also said during the question-and-answer session that Pasadena boasts more libraries than most other cities of its size.

The City’s contribution to California Public Employees’ Retirement System “continues to take a growing bite out of the budget,” said Tornek, but he noted that the City has increased the size of its reserves through budget cuts and allocated $12 million to a special trust account in 2017, for “future pension and other post-employment benefit obligations.”

Fiscal Year 2020 will see a budget surplus of $11 million and income is projected to exceed expenses through 2024, said the Mayor.

“What we can say with certainty,” said Tornek, “is that the City budget will always be under pressure from a desire to do more worthy things than we can afford to do.”

Tornek added that the advent of additional new hotels planned for construction in the near future, significant tax revenue from online sales, and restored State and Federal funding could also “bend the revenue curve up in a meaningful way.”

But he delivered a warning, too, by cautioning that “we must continue to be very disciplined in how we manage our spending, or we will be confronted with the looming threat of the operating deficit all over again.”

As to the question of spending Measure I Funds, Tornek proposed that the bulk of the new funds be used for “urgent capital projects,” with a five-year spending plan.

The plan would would consist of $5 million for Citywide facility improvements, $120 million for fire station improvement and design of new facilities, $2.5 million for Colorado Street Bridge Suicide mitigation construction, $20.8 million for high voltage street light conversion, $1 million for City Hall building security management, $8 million communication equipment upgrade and replacement, along with $9 million for sidewalk repair and replacement.

‘With careful cash management and perhaps using some borrowing leverage,” said Tornek, “we can maintain a balanced operating budget, and make a measurable dent in our capital need over the next five years.”

Measure I will also see a new $7 million in yearly revenue for the Pasadena Unified School District.

“The City Council has entered into a serious and unprecedented dialogue with the PUSD Board to see how we can use this $7 million per year, to make a significant difference,” said Tornek.

Along with planned capital spending, Mayor Tornek discussed a new $105 million from Metro for a grade separation crossing at Arroyo Parkway and California Boulevard, and $2.5 million from Los Angeles County for the Army Corps of Engineers for habitat restoration in the Arroyo Seco.

Tornek called homelessness “the most pressing problem facing our city.” He proposed that the City convert the City-owned historic YWCA building in the Civic Center into permanent supportive housing for the homeless.

A previously-announced protest demonstration at the event was low-key and drew few takers. About seven members of the Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police and Pasadenans Organizing for Progress outside the gymnasium handed out statements that called upon the City to “reform Pasadena Police Department’s Use of Force (UOF) policy, in collaboration with citizen’s groups proposing policy reforms and best practices.”

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