[BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian — On April 19, 2023, the Benicia Herald published a letter penned by former City Council Member Lionel Largaespada. In his letter, Mr. Largaespada expressed “shock” that Benicia will realize a large deficit this fiscal year. Wednesday, April 26’s edition of the Herald featured a response from Benicia’s former Finance Director and current Assistant City Manager, Bret Prebula. In it, Mr. Prebula highlights our former Council Member’s many “distortions of truth” and notes that Mr. Largaespada conveniently avoids taking responsibility for some of the deficit spending he railed about. For Benicia to maintain its services and community benefits, “new tax revenue is a must, [and] that is a factual reality.” We must spurn politically motivated, distorted narratives about Benicia’s budget crisis and instead pledge to work together toward a common goal: Benicia’s financial sustainability. And with it, our future. — N.C.]
Distortion of the Truth
by Bret Prebula, April 26, 2023, originally posted in the Benicia Herald.
The letter sent by former City Councilmember Largaespada is a distortion of the truth. Mr. Largaespada makes accusations of some lack of professional ability or structure to oversee and manage the City’s budget, that is frankly just untrue. In fact, the finance department has over the past two years transitioned into a professional and higher performing department. The City had a history of poor financial leadership and in just two years we have not fixed all the sins of the past, but we are a long way from the past poor performance with a vision of continuing to improve.
Mr. Largaespada speaks of this “discrepancy” from the April 2022 5-year forecast discussion to the March 2023 FY 2022/23 mid-year budget review. What Mr. Largaespada fails to mention is that his comparison is like comparing apples and oranges. The 5-year forecast is exactly that, a forecast, to provide the council, staff, and the community an awareness under current revenue and expense trends what financial health the City is predicting and what is the sensitivity to changes in the system, i.e., revenue decreases or expense increases. The summary of that exercise was that the city has a clear structural deficit. The amount of surplus or deficit of the projection within the 5-year forecast is to achieve a trend to assist in policy decision making as actual fiscal years can have specific changes that could not be considered in a projection. (Which is what happened in FY 22/23- current fiscal year).
Mr. Largaespada wants to paint a picture that the current deficit was something new, while in fact Mr. Largaespada was on the City Council and approved the FY 2022 & FY 2023 budget, at that time the budget clearly was approved with deficit spending. The current estimated deficit was in fact not shocking since the Council knew it had approved a deficit budget when the budgets were adopted in June 2021 (inclusive of Mr. Largaespada). The additional level of deficit was due to some approved changes in Public Works salaries and other operating costs throughout the City for which Mr. Largaespada was supportive.
Our City is going through a difficult fiscal time, that is a clear truth, but this fiscal issue has been looming for a long time. We are now making sure our community knows the issue is realized and no longer just a theory. We will and have to make some operational reductions/efficiency changes, but new tax revenue is a must, that is a factual reality. The only other outcome without revenue is to dramatically change the services and community benefits (such as parks, library hours, level of public safety support) we can provide.
It is important that we all come together at this time to solve our citywide issues not distort information to further a narrative. We need to focus on our common interest that bind us together, we need to trust the staff that have shown in the past two years they are willing and capable to lead the City through this time, and trust our council (asking question genuinely to achieve information). As a citizen, I look forward to those interactions and discussions.
Bret Prebula, Resident and Assistant City Manager
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