Carson Has Run a Deficit for Most of Last Decade – What Does That Mean For You?
Everyone knows you can’t spend more money than you have, but that’s exactly what the City of Carson has been doing for most of the last decade. Carson has suffered from a budget deficit — spending more money than it takes in — for nine of the past 12 years. The current year’s budget totaled nearly $89 million, and had a forecasted deficit of $4.6 million.
The Carson City Council is preparing to pass a new budget, which it must do by June. This will involve several public meetings where Carson residents can discuss their priorities.
Overall, the city’s general fund budget is roughly 20 percent higher than it was a decade ago. Its reserve fund has fallen from more than $35 million in 2012 to less than $20 million in 2017. The City’s own budget forecast for last year suggests “the General Fund balance would be depleted in 2022 if no further changes are made to the City’s structural budget,” meaning the city would be broke.
In 2017 the city council declared a “fiscal emergency” shortly before extending a utility user tax, which was passed by voters as Measure C that November.
A combination of rising costs, as well as lower than expected revenues have contributed to the city’s ongoing deficit issues. Taking up more than half of the city’s general fund budget, employee compensation is the single largest expense to the city. While the city has frozen hiring and restricted raises for employees, the cost of employee benefits continues to increase; specifically, the city’s payment of the unfunded pension liability and retiree health insurance. If these financial struggles continue, parks, public safety, youth programs, street maintenance and many other services could be affected.
A recent court victory returned more than $7 million back into the city’s budget reserve--funds that had been set aside in the event the city lost its court battle with a local mobile home park owner.
These additional funds are welcome, however, the city maintains a budget policy that calls for a 20 percent reserve, which it can’t meet without rapid changes.
The council is expected to adopt the budget in June, but the process to develop the budget has already begun and decisions will be made long before the final council vote. The budgetary process began as a team effort in the early part of the year, with the city’s various departments developing projections for the coming year.
The city will hold a series of public workshops on its priorities – a critical chance for residents to be involved. Look for these public workshops to begin in April.