At a special meeting Monday afternoon, the Eureka City Council adopted the city’s annual budget proposal, which cuts the city’s general fund budget by nearly $4.6 million and reduces staffing, materials and services in multiple city departments.
The extreme cuts are largely due to a loss in the city’s tax revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. During a budget study session on June 23, Eureka Finance Director Lane Millar explained that the city has seen a 10 percent reduction in its sales and transient occupancy taxes this year, which make up about 75 percent of the city’s general fund. This is possibly the largest decline in revenue the city has seen in 20 to 30 years, Millar said.
Public works, community services, police and fire departments will all see significant reductions in the next fiscal year, with the Eureka Police department seeing an over $900,000 budget cut and losing six staff positions, including four officers.
A resident of Eureka’s Third Ward made public comment during the meeting, asking the council to consider allocating less funding to the police department. The resident also criticized the police department for its response to the actions of Officer Drake Goodale, who admitted on film to telling a Native American man, Pete Yellow Bird, to “go back to the reservation.”
At the request of the council, EPD Chief Steve Watson addressed some of these concerns, outlining the cuts to the police department budget and reduction to staff during this time. Watson said that the department has seen a 19 percent reduction in full time positions since 2016. Watson also said that Goodale will be retiring from the department within a month, and that he was held accountable for his “choice of words” when addressing Yellow Bird.
“I absolutely do not agree with or tolerate any words that are racially insensitive,” Watson said. “It was a poor choice of words in that situation.”
Goodale is one of several city employees offered an early retirement incentive, or “golden handshake,” to help the city save on salary expenses while avoiding laying off employees. The city plans to freeze these positions at least temporarily.
The budget also calls for the reorganization of some city departments. The development services department will now be managed by Public Works; the Community Access Program for Eureka (CAPE) and UPLIFT Eureka will be moved from the Community Services Department to the City Manager’s office; and the city clerk position has been shifted to assistant city manager.
The council voted unanimously (with Councilmember Austin Allison absent) to adopt the proposed budget for 2020/21 and every council member thanked city staff for its tireless efforts in preparing the budget during this difficult time.
Councilmember Natalie Arroyo also mentioned that many Eureka residents have recently reached out to her and the council about the city budget and encouraged those who are not happy with the budget decisions to continue to reach out to the council.
“I want people to not feel afraid to ask us for a personal meeting to address their concerns,” Arroyo said, adding that she would be willing to meet with her constituents over the phone, zoom or even on a masked, socially distant walk.
You can view the 2020-21 budget here.
In related business, the council unanimously approved a deferral to the city’s scheduled water and sewer rate increases to help minimize financial impacts to Eureka residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following a rates study conducted in 2017, the city developed a five-year implementation schedule for rate increases and Eureka residents have already seen a significant increase in water and sewer rates over the last three years. But with many businesses closing and residents losing jobs or experiencing a reduction in hours, the council felt that the city should wait to execute this years fee increase.
Millar told the Outpost on Monday that there is less financial demand on the city’s Water and Sewer Fund because it is primarily used for capital improvement projects. By extending the timeline for large projects, the city is able to offer some financial flexibility, Millar said.
The council did not yet decide on a timeline for the rate increase deferral, but will revisit the issue at a later date.