Sat, Dec 25 2010 12:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampite
During a press conference Wednesday, an independent financial analyst revealed that the city of Chula Vista has tens of millions of dollars available for any legal use they choose, including saving police officer positions.
Peter Donohue, an expert in government finances hired for $20,000 by the Chula Vista Police Officer's Association, examined the city's financial records for the last 10 years.
Donohue said the city's overall fiscal health is not nearly as bleak a picture as has been painted.
"At this point, the results are provisional, but compelling," he said.
Donohue's study found that at the end of 2009 the city had $154 million in unrestricted net assets, which can legally be used for anything they choose.
Donohue received documents from the city's Comprehensive Financial Annual Report last month, which revealed the city has access to "unrestricted funds."
"They grossly overestimate their spending and what they have on hand at the end of the year," Donohue said.
Chula Vista's Finance Director Maria Kachadoorian said Donohue's findings are not valid.
"We have about 150 funds in the city. He's taking all of the funds and combining them and saying they are available," she said.
The city has two funds they are required to use, government and proprietary.
The report stated governmental funds, including the general fund, the city's total reserves began this fiscal year at $89 million.
In addition, the city's proprietary enterprise and internal services funds began with $64 million.
City Manager Jim Sandoval said that the city has no funds available to avoid layoffs or other severe impacts to public services.
"(The report is) not accurate and I think it's disappointing that misinformation is provided," he said.
"I think it's difficult for our employees and I hate to think people are getting their hopes up," Sandoval said.
In August, Sandoval released a Fiscal Health Plan and financial update, which detailed a projected $12.5 million general fund deficit for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
It increased to $18.5 million when the city's Telecommunication's Utility Tax didn't pass in November.
Cox said the city council approved a $124 million budget and submitted it in June.
"Nothing's changed since August," Sandoval said. "We've been making cuts the last four years and have never laid off a police officer. They don't have to get laid off this time either, as long as they agree to pension reform."
Police union spokesman Lt. Phil Collum said they won't agree to refrom if it's not necessary.
Donohue said that by signing annual finance reports, the city is stating the numbers they provided were the city's best representation of its finances.
"That's the true bottom line that the city swore to," Donohue said.
Donoue said general fund reserves equal 23.3 percent of general fund expenditures.
Kachadoorian said that is misinformation. "Available reserves of the general fund are 7.2 percent, or $10 million," she said.
Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox said reserves should not be used for ongoing expenses such as keeping employee positions.
"The fact of that matter is we do not have an excess of reserves," she said.
"There are a lot of assumptions that are incorrect as well as factual errors," Sandoval said. "We've been sending a message that is accurate."
Collum said the situation isn't just about the police. "Our objective is to look at the whole picture and provide that to the public so they can decide [if it is true]," he said.
Donohue said much of what's happening at the city is a matter of choice, not circumstance.
"The is city is aware that they have these funds available," he said.
Donohue said it comes down to transparency. "The point is you're making choices when it comes to public policy. I think the larger community has to weigh in," he said.
The most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report is not yet available for review.
In related news, Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano announced Wednesday that the Chula Vista Elementary School District and the Sweetwater Union High School District have agreed to pay $915,000 toward the School Resource Officer's $1.9 million program through the 2011-2012 fiscal year. The funding will save eight positions.
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