Arroyo Grande to address $1.2 million budget shortfall

April 28, 2020

Arroyo Grande Mayor Caren Ray Russom

The Arroyo Grande City Council is slated to discuss implementing strategies to address a projected budget shortfall, related to the coronavirus, on Tuesday evening.

Before the coronavirus shutdown, city officials were hoping a proposed sales tax increase would pay for increasing retirement costs, deferred infrastructure maintenance, and other unmet needs. Even so, a pre-coronavirus 10-year financial forecast projected a surplus and a positive financial outlook for the city.

Now, because of the pandemic, the city is expecting a $1.2 million budget shortfall. In March, Arroyo Grande furloughed 23 part-time employees.

Michael Stevens, the city’s new administrative services director, is recommending the council reduce expenditures for the remainder of the 2019/2020 fiscal year. He is recommending delaying, postponing, or eliminating expenses, including a travel and hiring freeze. Stevens is opposed to mandatory unpaid employee furloughs.

In recent years, the city has slashed spending through employee layoffs and attrition. In 2018, the city reduced staffing levels, and in turn, service levels in the community by 7.4 full-time equivalent employees.

Last fall, the Arroyo Grande City Council received harsh community criticism for voting to increase council member stipends by 60 percent and the mayor’s stipend by 97 percent.

Government watchdog Julie Tacker recently discovered numerous mathematical errors and issues with credit card purchases and reimbursements for travel expenses, after reviewing several years of expense reports, receipts and invoices.

For example, Mayor Caren Ray Russom used her city credit card to purchase an $18 shot of whiskey and a bottle of Nyquil. After Tacker requested city credit card receipts, Ray Russom reimbursed the city.

In many cases, the city was unable to produce receipts to justify purchases. For example, city staff claimed they lost the receipt for a $135 bill at the Mason Bar.

“This council and staff have been reckless with their bookkeeping,” Tacker said. “City Manager Jim Bergman’s missing receipts do not explain 300 miles of travel on a rental car during the six days he spent in Nashville, Tennessee at a conference.”

In addition, Tacker found a city line-item for purchasing flowers for city staffers who have lost a loved one or former city staffers or officials. However, city staffers regularly use city funds to buy flowers for chosen members of the public who do not fit the criteria.

“If they want to send flowers to someone the staff likes, they should pass the hat, and not use public funds,” Tacker said.

On Tuesday at 6 p.m., the council will meet by teleconference. Members of the public can provide public comment during the meeting by calling (833) 493-5844.

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Now it seems AG will be looking for another city manager, that’s how many in how many years? This also will not be cheap, too bad the residents won’t hear the real reasons for his departure, hidden behind “it’s a personnel issue”, shouldn’t be when the residents are footing the bill, they should get to know.

@Speak Truth to Power: Spot on. These ‘nobles,’ of which Caren is their leader, enabling Bergman as well, think so little of their constituents that I am quite sure there are many other ‘theft’ like items that have gone unaccounted for. Thanks to Julie Tacker for pointing out a few, – remember how Julie exposed Caren’s tax-payer jacket purchase – but will this exposure to their unethical ways change their behavior or the voters’ opinion come election day? Caren acts likes she deserves her self-appointed noblesse but quite frankly she talks about ‘serving the public,’ but those are words only. Accountability isn’t in her vocabulary.

The public has forever allowed Government jobs to be an unchallenged travel club. The justification to not let them is as simple as “Zoom”, a feature that has been available in some form for many years. As for misappropriation of funds, that too has been business as usual with the exception of underlings who have been ridiculously flaunting their theft. Post COVID will cleanse these government waste issues because the reality will be like this, “current taxes will barely pay their wages, pension and with little to no benefit to the public except for Public Safety (the 3% per year pension group)”.

if only there was a guy in AG with integrity that would run for mayor. oh wait, what’s that? they did and he what? Lost?

Huh, I guess they reap what they sow.

Easy steps to fix the problem. Actually, these steps can fix anything…..

1. Pay massive amounts of money to consulting groups who aren’t from around here and know very little about our local life.

2. Add staff to the city payroll

3. Increase taxes, fees and fines on local residents.

This is how modern-day local leaders solve problems! This is the template. Can you say, “Problem Solved!” I knew you could….

No travel, no shots, no fun.

Caren, Caren, Caren, an $18 shot of whiskey? Really? Very bad judgement and voters should remember your cavalier attitude toward their money come election time.

You can make her mayor but you can’t take the drinker with a naked running problem out of her. (She claims normal adult behavior).

“the Arroyo Grande City Council voted to increase council member stipends by 60 percent and the mayor’s stipend by 97 percent”, hmm can we think of one thing they can cancel immediately…..

Folks…when will the people stand up and put Government workers in their Place. These nobles are living the royal life on the tax payers dime. In the Real World of Private Enterprise, using the company credit card for personal expenses is called THEFT and is firable offence!