Mayor Shines Light on Budget, Community Invited

Series of meetings will explain how tax dollars can be spent
Gilroy – Why doesn’t the city borrow a million dollars from its public facilities fund to help cover budget shortfalls for construction along Monterey Street? Why doesn’t the city install bathrooms at Sunrise Park? Why can Gilroy afford $500,000 a year for sidewalk repairs, but not $2 million?

Residents wondering about the city’s spending priorities and what can – or can’t – be done with local tax dollars can attend a series of public meetings starting Tuesday. Mayor Al Pinheiro and City Administrator Jay Baksa will hold four meetings at schools throughout the community to illuminate the inner workings of Gilroy’s $126-million budget.

“I think the point is, number one, to give the community a better understanding of the city budget,” Pinheiro said. “They always question why we’re spending money in one place and not the other. This is an opportunity to get to know exactly where their money is going, and to understand our budget constraints, also how volatile our city is because of the fact we live off of sales tax.”

Residents looking to study up before the meetings can find the city’s five-year budget online. The attached budget message departs from the gloomy predictions of past years and details plans to end a three-year hiring freeze. City officials are planning to add two dozen employees, put $500,000 or more into sidewalk repairs and restore funding for other programs cut back in recent years.

Despite such gains, officials hope to prevent overconfidence.

“Every time we seem to get an extra dollar, it goes into fire and police,” Pinheiro said. “It’s not only the costs that we have to incur because of the high cost of police and fire, but if you look at some of the expenses like (retirement), we end up not having some of the extra dollars that it seems we have.”

Only $35 million of the city’s $126-million budget goes toward operating expenses, the vast majority of which goes to pay for salaries and benefits of Gilroy’s 270 public employees. The remaining $90 million is spread across several pots of money that support new buildings, roads, sewers and other public improvements. Money in those funds is reserved for specific uses.

This is the second time in a decade that city leaders have tried to engage the public in the budget process. In the late ’90s, former Mayor Mike Gilroy held a series of public sessions on the budget and other issues.

A simple motivation spurred a revival of the effort, Pinheiro said: “We don’t want people in the community to think that their money is not being spent the way it should be, or that they don’t have an opportunity to ask questions.”