Expecting to return frequently to the subject of local public expenses and revenues over the coming months, the Morgan Hill City Council June 17 approved a two-year, $221 million budget for the city’s operations.
Council members noted at least two key lingering issues that could significantly impact the current expense and revenue projections: the Covid-19 pandemic and a new, ongoing discussion about Morgan Hill’s public safety needs.
The latter of these was a hot topic during the June 17 online council meeting. The elected officials heard from a refrain of residents asking the council to move some of the city’s police department budget to other services, such as the library, community events and mental health services.
These comments echoed a nationwide conversation about “defunding police” in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody, as well as other recent in-custody deaths.
Some Morgan Hill residents during the June 17 meeting asked the council to postpone their vote on the budget so the members could take a closer look at options to reallocate some of the police department funding. The council declined to postpone the vote, but agreed that discussions about police and public safety funding should continue.
Council member Rene Spring noted that the council’s stated “number one priority” for many years has been public safety, but that comes in many forms other than police spending.
“We’re going to revisit the budget regularly,” Spring said. “In the meantime, let’s have those community discussions about public safety.”
Council member Larry Carr included in one of his motions to approve the budget, a future and ongoing “community dialogue about the definition of public safety, and what it means in our values statement.”
Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Martinez Beltran wanted to take a closer look now at the city’s police funding needs as listed in the budget. She made a motion to postpone a council vote on the staff-recommended budget, but did not gain a second from any of her colleagues.
The council ultimately voted 4-1 in favor of the staff-recommended budget for 2020-21 and 2021-22, with Martinez Beltran in dissent.
“We should delineate to everyone where this budget for the police is going,” Martinez Beltran said.
She added that as a “woman of color,” she has experienced racial prejudice—the overarching target of protestors and activists throughout the nation in recent weeks.
“I stand against racism, and I am completely horrified by what is going on in this country,” Martinez Beltran said.
Earlier in the June 17 meeting, Martinez Beltran asked numerous questions about the Morgan Hill Police Department’s budget detailed in the two-year document.
Members of the public noted that while the staff-recommended budget reduces funds for other services, the police department budget is increasing. Projected year-end expenses for MHPD for 2019-20 are about $17 million. That number will rise to about $18.2 million in 2020-21, and about $19.3 million in 2021-22.
Much of that increase is attributed to salary raises, which are stipulated in multi-year contracts with public safety unions. But due to massive projected revenue losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic and related shelter-in-place orders, the approved budget also cuts some community events and programs from the police department. These include the Parent Project, Citizens Police Academy and National Night Out.
Sixty percent of the city’s $28.4-million general fund discretionary budget for 2020-21 is allocated for the police department. Total police department staff is currently at 66.5 full-time employees, and is projected to remain at that level through 2021-22.
Some members of the public pointed out that Morgan Hill spends a higher percentage of its general fund on the police department than surrounding cities. City Manager Christina Turner noted that these are not necessarily “apples to apples” comparisons, as other cities have more revenue sources or they include more departments in their general fund than Morgan Hill does.
Mayor Rich Constantine suggested that future dialogue about local public safety priorities is more meaningful than a single vote by the council.
“It’s not one budget that’s going to solve all our issues. It’s the ongoing conversations we are going to have to have (that will) fix these issues,” Constantine said.
The budget approved by the council is already heavily impacted by Covid-19 and recent shutdowns of large swaths of the local economy. These impacts have resulted in projected revenue losses of about $1.4 million in sales tax and hotel tax over the next two years, plus another $2.3 million in losses from recreation revenues from the end of the current fiscal year (June 30) through 2021-22.
Those projections could change for the worse if the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a toll on the economy, city staff and council members noted. As a result, city staff and council members plan to continue to revise and update the budget over the next two years.
The two-year budget approved June 17 cuts a total of about $2.3 million in existing services for 2020-21, and about $2.4 million for 2021-22. Carr asked Turner to return to an upcoming council meeting with additional proposals for at least $200,000 more in service cuts for 2021-22.
The biggest chunk of service cuts so far are in the city’s recreation and community services programs. The budget cuts a total of about $760,000 from these programs in 2020-21, and about $860,000 in 2021-22. Specifically, these include free community events, keeping the community center splash pad turned off during the summer, reduction of staff positions by 2.5, fewer hours at the senior center and teen center and no pay raises for part-time staff.
In March, the city furloughed nearly 100 temporary staff in response to Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place orders. Some of these have since been rehired to work at the Dennis Kennedy Aquatics Center.
The approved budget includes general fund expenditures of about $43.8 million in 2020-21, and about $44.7 million in 2021-22.
The council also approved a six-year Capital Improvement budget of about $191 million.