Some of the numbers were shifted around and wording changed, but in the end the San Carlos City Council approved a two-year budget that decreases from $49.2 million for 2012-13 to $46.4 million for 2013-14.
What was supposed to be a formality, however, turned into an extended discussion regarding an item defined as an "unfunded liability" associated with the dissolution of South County Fire last October.
As it stands, the projected cost is zero. It could prove to be a costly expenditure though.
"These are very preliminary numbers," San Carlos Administrative Services Director Rebecca Mendenhall said. "We are trying to work with CalPERS but they are using numbers from two years ago."
The California Public Employees Retirement System, which provides retirement, health, and related financial programs and benefits to more than 1.6 million public employees, retirees, and their families, has to determine how much San Carlos will (or may not) need to contribute to the pension system.
"We have spent a great deal of time with the staff on this issue," San Carlos City Manager Jeff Maltbie said. "Their system is not designed to accommodate the dissolution of an entire entity. It seems fluid and there are several other components related to items included in the budget."
San Carlos has dealt with a series of consolidations within its organization as well as contracting out many of its services, including fire, police and dispatch. The state of California has withdrawn $25 million from the city over the past seven years.
"The history of the San Carlos City Council has been not to pass the buck," Maltbie said. "The city has endured a very long structural deficit that has been influenced by outside events, like the dot com bust and the 2008 housing crisis. We'll roll up our sleeves and figure out how to pay for it."
As for determining the possible cost of the unfunded liability, the council will address it again in six months, when the facts are clearer.
"It's like playing darts blindfolded," newly appointed City Councilwoman Karen Clapper said.
"We can only go on facts we have," Vice Mayor Bob Grassilli said. "We can come back to it mid-year."
The council did add a slight expenditure to the budget, adding an extra $15,000 for the Chamber of Commerce, which had originally seen its $90,000 budget slashed to nothing before being given $30,000.
"I was thinking of the visual impact if the funds were cut all together," Chamber of Commerce CEO David Bouchard said of losing the lights and banners that decorate Laurel Street.
Bouchard said the extra $15,000 will allow the Chamber of Commerce to continue publishing its Holiday Guide to San Carlos.
Mayor Matt Grocott recommended Clapper be named to the Library JPA and Peninsula Traffic Congestion committees, to which the council voted unanimously to accept.
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