Letters to the Editor: Montebello is ...

Letters to the Editor: Montebello is a Transparent City - Mtb Interim City Administrator

There are 17 comments on the www.whittierdailynews.com story from Jul 29, 2012, titled Letters to the Editor: Montebello is a Transparent City - Mtb Interim City Administrator. In it, www.whittierdailynews.com reports that:

The basis of the editorial "Montebello needs a new transparency," July 6, is misleading to the public and is factually incorrect in several of its assertions. Lack of availability to reporters does not constitute lack of transparency. If anything, Montebello has been more than transparent. Please visit the city's website, "Latest Headlines" section.

Personally, I am committed to being transparent to the public domain for which I and all city employees serve. It is for the public good and trust that I believe accountability and openness should be the characteristics of good city government. Due to my dual role of interim city administrator and director of finance, I have a heightened work load which involves many time sensitive and often urgent matters to attend to. --Francesca Tucker-Shuyler

Join the discussion below, or Read more at www.whittierdailynews.com.

“Hilltop Park Above All”

Since: Sep 08

Montebello, CA

#1 Jul 29, 2012
It makes me wonder, who is feeding apparently innacurate information to the reporter?

I can vouch for reporters' penchant to email a few hours before cut off time, despite most of them already having my cell phone number. I don't look at my email during the day: I am at work where I don't need or use a computer or email.

Francesca is also always talking to people after city council meetings, answering questions and providing additional information. I almost never see a reporter staying to the end of the meeting, so they probably don't know that.

It was a pleasant surprise to see her at the March for Montebello with her husband and son.
Crazies

Montebello, CA

#2 Jul 29, 2012
It is apparent that Cortez and her crazies have done the city an injustice by painting the city in a bad light, the content of which has been picked up by the press. The letter, while appropriate to counter this constant negativity of Cortez at every council meeting and the newspapers constant portrayal of Montebello as heading down the road to bankruptcy, points out the need for a permanent city administrator and how one council member can give a city such a bad wrap. While Montebello is still far from economic recovery, positive inroads have been made since Kosmont was hired last year.
Trash Talk

Ventura, CA

#3 Jul 30, 2012
Montebello balances its 2012-13 budget, will end this year with $560,000 surplus By Juliette Funes, SGVN twitter.com/juliette_funes
Posted: 05/31/2012 03:21:01 PM PDT MONTEBELLO -

After being on the brink of fiscal insolvency this time last year, city officials have turned things around in Montebello by producing a balanced budget with a small surplus.
The City Council on Tuesday held a 2012-13 fiscal year budget workshop, where several department heads described the cuts they've made to achieve a balanced budget that will result in a modest $75,000 surplus.
"This is not an ideal budget," said Interim City Administrator and Finance Director Francesca Tucker-Schuyler said. "Is it adequate? It probably isn't.

But is it a balanced budget? Absolutely ... and we will be pressing forward." The 2012-13 fiscal year, which begins July 1, includes $44,494,000 in projected revenues and $44,420,000 in expenditures.
Montebello is expected to begin the fiscal year with a cash balance of $10.14 million -
which includes $8.4 million borrowed from its self-insurance fund that is used to pay for lawsuits and other liability issues - and end it with $10.2 million.

Financial estimates show that the current fiscal year will end with a nearly $560,000 surplus.

"This was done without layoffs and furloughs and hopefully that will continue in the year," Councilman Bill Molinari said. "It's not where we'd like to be, but it's certainly a very competent achievement given the circumstances."

Last year it was revealed that Montebello had no reserves and had been deficit-spending since 2008.

The city's financial practices led to investigations from multiple agencies, including from the state Controller's Office and the U.S. Department of Housing.
Montebello's general fund at one point was so short on cash that city staff had to resort to borrowing money from the city's self-insurance fund to make payroll.

The city's financial recovery plan calls for officials to balance the budget every year.
At a budget review session last month, officials projected that the next fiscal year would have a $3 million shortfall.

To help narrow the gap, several departments, but especially the Parks and Recreation Department, have made cuts to some services.
Norma Salinas, director of Municipal Services, is proposing to cut several outside contracts and vendors that provide class instruction and other services; eliminate recreational activities at the skate park and most teen programs.
She also proposed cutting the youth commission because the assigned members rarely attend. Cuts will not drastically affect either the Montebello Police or Fire Departments, officials said.
To contain costs, the Montebello Police Department is keeping vacant spots unfilled, using $350,000 in asset forfeiture funds to pay for overtime costs and has negotiated new contracts with personnel. But also helping to increase revenues were increased tax revenue, including sales and property taxes, compared to previous years. License fees and permits revenue also increased.

Molinari said other revenue-generators, like new big box businesses and retailers, are also essential. "There's reason to be optimistic that the city has good bones and a solid economic base," Molinari said. "It's important to maintain a positive outlook and positive image for our city as a good place to invest."

Tucker-Schuyler said she plans on analyzing revenues and expenditures every quarter with department heads "so that we can conserve as much as we can to the extent that we can so we can anticipate the fiscal year 2012-13 as well as 2013-14."
The final fiscal package will go before the council for approval on June 13.

“Hilltop Park Above All”

Since: Sep 08

Montebello, CA

#4 Jul 30, 2012
At the rally after the March, the manager of the Shops at Mtb said that several new stores and restaurants will be coming to the shops this year, including an Olive Garden.

Sales Tax $$$$. Good.
Trash Talk

Ventura, CA

#5 Jul 30, 2012
In spite of critics, Montebello officials say city is on road to recovery
http://www.sgvtribune.com/news/ci_21185924

(Let's hope the Editorial board reads this story- they evidently missed the last one)

MONTEBELLO - Last year was hellish for the city of Montebello.

The city of 63,000 residents was ravaged by months of intense public, state and federal scrutiny after four audits revealed that Montebello had misspent $31 million in redevelopment funds between 2005 and 2010 to pay its bills and cover its budget and cash shortfalls.

The state Controller audits stopped short of alleging any criminal wrongdoing -
and did not require Montebello to repay the funds - but did compare the city's questionable accounting practices to those of scandal-ridden Bell.

Montebello at the time had no reserves, struggled to secure a loan to keep its lights on and was on the brink of insolvency after years of deficit spending.

City leaders say the city has managed to bounce back and is making a fresh start into the new fiscal year with improved fiscal controls and a balanced 2012-13 budget that has a growing surplus.

Still, questions are emerging in explosive arguments as to whether Montebello is on solid fiscal ground, and more importantly, whether or not it's heading in the direction of San Bernardino,
a city that allegedly falsified 13 of 16 years of budgets and recently declared bankruptcy.

At the last City Council meeting, Councilwoman Christina Cortez publicly accused the finance director of using restricted funds to balance the budget and failing to acknowledge Montebello's past fiscal problems.

After pounding his gavel several times in an unsuccessful attempt maintain order, Mayor Frank Gomez, two other council members and the city attorney walked out.

"The biggest thing that's been coming up in government is nobody wants to be transparent on what the reality of the situation is because they don't want to face it,"
Cortez said in an interview.
"Montebello, I believe, is not any different."

San Bernardino City Attorney James Penman said his city's council had for years been given falsified budget documents indicating that they were in the black when, in fact, they were operating in the red.

While Montebello officials recognize that previous administrations blew the city's cash,
forcing them last year to talk to bankruptcy attorneys,
they say they are mistakes of the past and Montebello is on the road to recovery.

"Things are changing, things are getting better, they're moving forward," Finance Director/Interim City Administrator Francesca Tucker-Schuyler said in a recent interview.
"The city is in transition, but it's making an awful great comeback."

For the second consecutive year, Montebello officials last month adopted a balanced budget, which projects a $75,000 surplus.
The city has a cash balance of $10.14 million - including $8.4 million borrowed from its self-insurance fund -
and will end the fiscal year with $10.2 million.

The self-insurance fund pays for workers' compensation claims and lawsuits.
Since it is not a restricted or special revenue fund,
officials said the money is available for cash-flow purposes.

Final estimates show the 2011-12 fiscal year ended with a $560,000 surplus.
Trash Talk

Ventura, CA

#6 Jul 30, 2012
Moving the city forward

"From the short-term perspective, we will not be going bankrupt," Gomez said.
"I feel that some of the changes we have made - from the great work that (former Interim City Administrator) Larry Kosmont did, really taking to heart some of the components of the audits and having a five-year city financial plan -
set the foundation for moving the city forward."

But if more isn't done to stabilize the city and increase revenues, Gomez warned Montebello could be in trouble in the long term.

State Controller John Chiang said Montebello is making strong progress, but it's up to them to continue on the road to fiscal responsibility.

"One of the key points that needs to be addressed with all cities is are the finances transparent," Chiang said. "Are the leaders both elected and appointed accountable and are they getting stakeholder participation? It ought to be perfectly clear to everybody involved,(especially residents), whether their finances are transparent or not."

City officials said this year's budget is closer to reality than ever before.

"Contrary to what's being said, it's actually better," said Tucker-Schuyler,
who came on as Finance Director in October 2010 and helped to catch past budget discrepancies.

The budgeting process began with a $3 million deficit.

Early figures assumed that expenditures would grow at a 3 percent rate, officials explained.
Instead, they remained flat, and cost of living adjustments for employees previously factored into the budget were eliminated, leading to some initial savings.

"Originally when we did a projection,
it was everyone's wish list to have cost of living increases and merit increases," Tucker-Schuyler said.
"When we saw that the number was so big, we cut that out."

Merit increases remained for Montebello police and fire employees through contract negotiations.

To further contain costs, the city this year implemented an updated cost allocation model,
a recommendation made by the State Controller.

The general fund previously absorbed the costs of some city personnel, like finance department workers, that do work for other departments,
like transit.

Under the new model, administrative overhead costs will be spread proportionately to various departments funds based on the activity level, saving the general fund about $300,000.
Other departments have sufficient funding to afford the costs, officials said.
Trash Talk

Ventura, CA

#7 Jul 30, 2012
mproved accounting

Improved accounting of transactions in the self-insurance fund saved about $700,000 for the general fund.
The key was identifying how much each fund that pays into to the self-insurance account - general, transit and golf course funds - should contribute.

"We looked at the way the city records for the self-insurance fund, who's spending it and who's paying for what," Tucker-Schuyler said.
"That was a big savings by looking at the different funds that fueled the self-insurance fund and isolating what's general funds versus non general funds."

The self-insurance fund has a balance of $4.27 million this year.

Although the state does not require a minimum amount to be kept in the fund, the city still needs to be able pay up to $1 million per claim, most of which are injury-related.

A third-party insurance carrier covers anything above the deductible. But if the fund does not have enough money, the general fund will take a hit.
To manage claims, officials said they are instituting a positive wellness approach to prevent worker injuries.

Another $400,000 was saved through the retirement of three former redevelopment agency employees.
A fourth former RDA employee is being paid from Community Development Block Grant funds.

Finally, about $1 million in department cuts,
and a shifting of personnel to other departments, significantly contributed to the deficit's decrease, officials said.

"Our goal is to use other (special revenue) sources to fund what the general fund has traditionally been funding," Tucker-Schuyler said.

Although the budget is fully burdened -
meaning that the city has budgeted for positions that are still vacant, like some police and fire positions -
officials expect to still save $200,000 for the first few months of the fiscal year until those slots are filled.

Tucker-Schuyler was appointed to the top city post in May after Interim City Administrator Keith Breskin resigned.
She took no pay increase, so the city expects to save $157,000 by not having a permanent administrator.

"How are we balancing our budget?
We're awfully lean.
We're stretched," Tucker-Schuyler said.

On the revenue side, officials are expecting a modest increase
Trash Talk

Ventura, CA

#8 Jul 30, 2012
Flexibility needed

Projections could change depending on the economy, so the city needs to be flexible, Tucker-Schuyler said.

"The budget is only a spending plan, a guide,
a journey for this year," she said.

Cortez - who rejected the city's budget as being filled with fairytale numbers -
has so far been unmoved.

"Everybody wants to say that we have a balanced budget right now and everything is great," she said.
"However, you are looking back at a city that has some major financial questions that are not resolved."

She has said the budget doesn't take into account how much money Montebello still may owe to retired employees, existing lawsuits and redevelopment money the city still may be liable for.

Tucker-Schuyler said the residual balance left in the city's retirement fund - funded through a property tax assessment fee - can pay for future expenses.

And any future litigation matters are unfunded liabilities that all cities have.

According to state officials, the only requirement placed on Montebello was to create a special gas tax fund.

"We have requests from 398 cities to review their books, so as we continue to review situations,
if we see that there seems to be additional issues with Montebello, we will gladly have that conversation with them," Chiang said.
"We're trying to stave off further troubled times for, not only Montebello, but for other cities."

“Hilltop Park Above All”

Since: Sep 08

Montebello, CA

#10 Jul 30, 2012
TT, do you have the story about Jurupa City, a city that is only 1 year old, which says it will run out of money in January and faces BK?
ytw

Alhambra, CA

#11 Jul 31, 2012
42 yr North Mtb resident wrote:
TT, do you have the story about Jurupa City, a city that is only 1 year old, which says it will run out of money in January and faces BK?
Los Angeles Times
California's newest city withering on fiscal vine
Jurupa Valley in Riverside County lost millions when lawmakers tapped funds earmarked for cities last year.'Our survival is at stake,' the mayor says.
By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times
July 30, 2012, 1:47 a.m.
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-disap...

“Hilltop Park Above All”

Since: Sep 08

Montebello, CA

#12 Jul 31, 2012
ytw wrote:
<quoted text>
Los Angeles Times
California's newest city withering on fiscal vine
Jurupa Valley in Riverside County lost millions when lawmakers tapped funds earmarked for cities last year.'Our survival is at stake,' the mayor says.
By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times
July 30, 2012, 1:47 a.m.
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-disap...
Thanks. How about Duarte? On TV last night it was said that Duarte now has bond indebtedness of $3 million because it is on the hook for bonds issued by its redevelopment agency. This is with very severe cuts and agreements already negotiated with its public safety unions. Does that mean that Montebello is on the hook for the Taylor Ranch bonds issued when the state confiscated $4 million in unspent bond money from their redevelopment account?
This is Ridiculous

Montebello, CA

#13 Jul 31, 2012
Did anyone see Cortez at the last council meeting? What a nut case. She does not belong up there. If she represents the typical voter in Montebello, what a sad city it is. She is rude and condescending to staff and her colleagues. She respects no one.
Fool Finder

Los Angeles, CA

#14 Jul 31, 2012
42 yr North Mtb resident wrote:
<quoted text>Thanks. How about Duarte? On TV last night it was said that Duarte now has bond indebtedness of $3 million because it is on the hook for bonds issued by its redevelopment agency. This is with very severe cuts and agreements already negotiated with its public safety unions. Does that mean that Montebello is on the hook for the Taylor Ranch bonds issued when the state confiscated $4 million in unspent bond money from their redevelopment account?
Montebello Successor Agency is on the hook for the Taylor Ranch bonds AND the 2000 Series Certificates of Participation (I believe about $16 million). State DOF disallowed the COPs on the city's ROPS. That means the city will receive no Redevelopment Property Tax Trust Fund monies to pay them back. It will have to pay them back out of general fund revenues.

“Hilltop Park Above All”

Since: Sep 08

Montebello, CA

#15 Jul 31, 2012
This is Ridiculous wrote:
Did anyone see Cortez at the last council meeting? What a nut case. She does not belong up there. If she represents the typical voter in Montebello, what a sad city it is. She is rude and condescending to staff and her colleagues. She respects no one.
Did she say anything false, misleading, or inappropriate? Please give specific statements.
Crazies

Montebello, CA

#16 Jul 31, 2012
Cortez behavior does not befit an elected official. Her comments are inappropriate, her accusations without merit, and she displays a complete lack of professionalism while seated up there.

“Hilltop Park Above All”

Since: Sep 08

Montebello, CA

#17 Aug 1, 2012
Crazies wrote:
Cortez behavior does not befit an elected official. Her comments are inappropriate, her accusations without merit, and she displays a complete lack of professionalism while seated up there.
Can you give any examples?

“Hilltop Park Above All”

Since: Sep 08

Montebello, CA

#18 Aug 1, 2012
Crazies wrote:
Cortez behavior does not befit an elected official. Her comments are inappropriate, her accusations without merit, and she displays a complete lack of professionalism while seated up there.
Are you against the concept of citizen-legislators? Professionalism is your criteria for elected officials?

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