Did Former Finance Director’s Projections Shape Last Election?

CONSERVATIVE ESTIMATES MADE CITY FINANCES APPEAR WORSE THAN BELIEVED
By Steven Tavares

By most accounts, San Leandro’s former part-time finance director was affable, capable, if not, conservative in his budget projections for the city. With a new full-time director sorting through her predecessor’s work, Perry Carter’s analysis is now taking on an alternative reading as his replacement finds the city’s financial condition still dire, but far more manageable than six months ago. The reversal has some wondering whether Carter may have lost the election for former mayor Tony Santos.

“Well, I don’t know, but that’s what some are saying,” Santos said. “These numbers sure would have helped during he campaign.”

City Finance Director Tracy Vesely said Dec. 21 the city could expect an extra $1.7 million in revenue from a combination of Carter’s conservative estimates and a return to expected property tax returns after the state reconciled an error two years ago by taking more in tax receipts from the city in 2009.
The past mayoral campaign leading to Mayor Stephen Cassidy’s upset of Santos featured considerable discussion of the city’s dwindling revenues and reserve funds. In Santos’ four years as mayor, his administration used most of the nearly $20 million in reserves set aside primarily for economic downturns such as these. Cassidy, though, exploited the general atmosphere of anger to great lengths while Santos failed in reminding voters of his work in presiding over one of the least-suffering city budgets in Alameda County.

Several city employees still griping over Cassidy’s win, said Santos never grasped the discontent of the voter and instead focused on a rigid view of facts that, while true, were never explained. “Cassidy knows every city budget, by law, is required to be balanced,” said a city source who declined to be identified, who also believes you can’t blame Carter for doing his job.

The kindly finance director with a shiny bald pate retired last November after holding the position as a part-time employee. Vesely, his replacement, previously worked for the City of Berkeley.

Armed with the new information, Santos has recently told numerous people his administration is leaving the city with an excess of funds–around $8 million–to play with in the next fiscal year, while tweaking Cassidy for comments the city is on the brink of bankruptcy. Critics, though, say the amount given by Santos is disingenuous since those funds have existed all along and were never reflected in the city’s budget projections. Five million of the total comes from the city’s emergency fund with the remainder coming from a one-time payment from Kaiser Permanente, most of which has already been earmarked for various road and improvement projects.

In early 2010, Carter told the city council to expect an operating shortfall of $7.3 million which led to further cuts in city programs and staff. By June, the council approved a fiscal budget for 2010-11 featuring $3 million in deficit spending. At the Finance Committee’s final meeting of the year, Vesely said she was comfortabe predicting a shortfall of $2.2 million, but also forecasted another year of flat revenues.

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