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Grand jury report says City of Oroville could be insolvent within four years

City of Oroville

The Butte County Grand Jury, 2017-2018, has released its interim report detailing a litany of issues present in the City of Oroville, ranging from under staffing to hard to reach city council members. The full report can be found at the bottom of this article.

At the end of their investigation, the grand jury reported that the Oroville City Council "urgently needs to identify and pursue additional sources of revenue" as well as "reconsider how they and the City staff operate".

According to the interim report, the Grand Jury selected to focus on Oroville because of lengthy and numerous vacancies in the city staff, as well as the concentration of city management into the hands of a select few employees. This included one instance where a single employee was tasked with heading four of the city's six departments, as well as serving as the acting city administrator.

According to the grand jury, a history of events outside of Oroville’s control created budget imbalances that continue to plague the city. These events include the 2008 recession, the 2012 statewide dissolution of the Redevelopment Agencies and, most significantly, the precipitous rise in costs of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

The jury noted that problems detailed in three previous grand jury reports were compounded over the past five years with "drastic" staffing cuts leaving the city with a skeleton crew. In addition, the higher cost of doing business continues to outpace the modest increase in the city's income. City employees had already accepted a 10 percent cut to their pay and/or benefits, which led to further degradation in staff morale.

The City of Oroville will become insolvent in three to four years if it does not address its budget imbalances.

To carry out this investigation, the grand jury interviewed the acting city administrator, the public safety and human resources director, the finance director, all members of the city council including the mayor, and several mid-level city employees. The grand jury attended a number of city council meetings in person and viewed others online

Staffing

In 2013 and 2014, the city reportedly carried out a series of layoffs to help balance its budget. All positions that were vacated were then "frozen" and left unfilled. In 2018, 32 percent of city positions were left empty because of this freezing.

The jury noted that the lack of staffing affected residents in all areas. For example, fewer police officers could result in higher crime rates. When someone was sick or took time off, no one was available to fill their role, and even if everyone was at work, when the public sought city services they faced longer wait times.

Several city employees told the Grand Jury that they found the lack of backup to be extremely stressful.

The reality of people covering multiple jobs led to interesting staffing choices. The report states that when three department director positions became vacant the roles were handed over to the planning director. In 2015, when the previous city administrator was terminated, the planning director was also given the role of acting city administrator.

Jurors said that the stress of managing four out of six departments while serving as Acting City Administrator, and trying to keep seven City Council members happy, contributed to his decision to seek a position elsewhere.

In another instance, the public safety director was given the additional job of director of human resources, even though they did not have any prior experience in that field.

Revenues

The grand jury says that Oroville's revenues have seen a "modest increase" over the past few years, but note that it hasn't kept pace with increases in mandatory CalPERS contributions.

The city council hoped that Measure R, which would've temporarily increased sales tax by 1 percent, would bridge this budget gap, but it failed.

The city did report that they were researching new sources of income from cannabis taxes and proposing another sales tax increase measure.

The council reported that they are studying all aspects of the cannabis industry, even visiting the City of Shasta Lake to learn about their experience. But, the city would have to get a voter approved measure to place an additional tax on cannabis (and its products) if they decided to legalize it.

City Council Operations

The grand jury noted that during their investigation, the city council was hard to reach and had a "profound sense of distrust" among its members.

Accusations of collusion and unethical or illegal behavior were leveled against each other.

The report said that when the jury tried to speak to the council, it was difficult to reach the elected members.

Multiple e-mails and phone calls to publicly available email address and phone numbers went unanswered. When jurors reached out to city hall on how to best contact the council members they were mostly given numbers and emails already tried without success.

Only after the Butte County Counsel got involved did the city council members interview with the grand jury. The jury noted that they believe any citizen trying to reach out to city council members would have a difficult time doing so.

One problem that led to this issue was two council members reported problems using the city-issued laptops.

Grand Jury Conclusion

The grand jury recommended nine suggestions on how to fix the problems that the city is currently facing with its staffing and budget issues.

Some of the key recommendations are as follow:

  1. The City of Oroville should contract with a consultant prior to the end of 2018 to perform comprehensive analysis of the current city staff to ensure that the city has the appropriate number and types of positions needed.
  2. The City should amend the city charter prior to the end of 2019 to provide for a City Manager position in place of the City Administrator position. A city manager would have more power to change and enact policy for the city.
  3. The city council should explore all possible sources of additional revenue and implement those that will allow the City to fill all of its high priority positions.
  4. The city council should work towards better collaboration by participating in periodic social and team-building activities.
  5. The city council needs to be more accessible and responsive to the citizens of Oroville through operational and valid emails and phone numbers.
  6. The City of Oroville should provide basic technology training for the City Council members.
  7. The Oroville website should be checked and updated frequently for accuracy and maintained for the benefit of its constituents.

The full report:


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