He might not know how to pull rabbits out of a hat, but the city’s financial director proved last week he still has a few tricks up his sleeve.
Tom Duensing told Glendale City Council at its March 17 meeting that he has found a creative method for raising the fund balance in the city’s general fund to $50 million, or about 25 percent of revenues, within five years.
The first maneuver involves changing the city’s repayment terms. Glendale gave $15 million from its water and sewer funds, $40 million from its landfill fund and $5 million from its sanitation fund to the National Hockey League a few years ago, he said.
“What we’re proposing we do is go ahead, do an accounting reclassification, we have to call it a transfer, or we would be calling it a transfer, in this fiscal year, fiscal 2014-15, that basically pulls that liability off our balance sheet,” said Duensing.
The council could vote annually to transfer $600,000 from the general fund into its enterprise utility funds, he suggested.
The vice mayor questioned why Duensing wanted to abandon the city’s plan for restoring those dollars to its utility funds, with payments and interest through 2037.
“What I think happened is the public was upset about all the funds transfers going to the NHL,” said Ian Hugh. “We started the payment plan, basically, because the public wanted it.”
The financial director described an advantage of the reclassification.
The unassigned balance in the general fund, with the switch to a transfer, would have increased by $39.5 million at the end of 2013-14. Bond rating agencies look at that financial indicator and would interpret the change positively, Duensing explained.
Councilmember Bart Turner asked Duensing whether the switch would provide any “more concrete or real benefits.”
“Had we gone through this process last year, I would anticipate that this would not be a negative item in the S&P and Moody’s reports,” Duensing replied.
The city would have received a bond rating upgrade had it gone through this kind of reclassification last year and it would have saved more than $47 million with its recent refinancing of bond obligations, he explained.
More than one member of the council agreed with Duensing’s proposal.
“This gives us a chance to step ahead without spending money,” said Mayor Jerry Weiers.
“From a financial world, when you have fiduciary responsibilities like this, this is the language they speak, and doing this, it will elevate our credit rating,” said Councilmember Sammy Chavira.
“I believe we’ve all given a level of commitment to our citizens that we want to bring financial stability back to Glendale,” said Councilmember Jamie Aldama, “so I feel your proposals today get us a little closer to that.”
At least a couple of their colleagues on the council expressed concerns with how Duensing wants to put the city’s fiscal house in order.
“What are the consequences to the enterprise funds?” asked Lauren Tolmachoff.
“You could do it a number of ways: you could do rate increases, you could defer maintenance, you could cut your operating costs,” Duensing explained.
Councilmember Gary Sherwood mentioned a few other needs, such as street improvements and a parking structure, and liabilities, including pending lawsuits and court cases, which could make it difficult to forecast the city’s future expenses.
Councilmembers shortly thereafter reached a consensus to pursue the new plan put forward by Duensing, who said the council would have to vote in a future meeting if it wanted to authorize the transfer.
Duensing also recommended that the city pay off a capital lease early to reduce its interest payments by $700,000 and save millions of dollars by paying ahead into the state’s public safety retirement fund.
His last step for reaching a reserve of $50 million in half a decade is to “hold the line on expenditures.” He told the council the city could reach that goal by keeping its annual expenditures $5 million below revenues for five years.
The council was scheduled to set 2015-16 budget priorities at a Feb. 12 workshop, but that meeting was canceled so the council could hold an executive session later that same day to discuss the performance of the then-city manager.
Neither the acting city manager nor the council members have rescheduled that community visioning workshop or introduced a resolution to adopt key priorities, the last of which was approved, with a final budget, during the June 10, 2014, council meeting.