Council 1.JPEG

Katelyn and Brodie Guttridge hold certificates of recognition for the Eagle Scout projects.

Local small businesses will have the chance to apply for pandemic-relief grants through a program approved May 17 by Galt City Council. At its regular meeting, Council also considered the Parks and Recreation Department budget, received a presentation on water rates and considered whether members should have the option to attend meetings remotely.

COVID relief for small business

With a 4-0 vote, Council signed off on the COVID-19 Small Business Assistance and Recovery Program, which allocates $1.3 million for businesses that lost income due to the pandemic.

Funded by money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the program received strong support from the council members and the Galt District Chamber of Commerce. Council Member Rich Lozano was absent.

Staff studied similar relief programs in other jurisdictions to learn best practices, Economic Development Manager Amie Mendes told Council. She also noted that she had met with representatives from the chamber of commerce.

The enterprises eligible for grants are divided into three groups: home-based small businesses, targeted industries and nontargeted industries. A business in any category must be located in Galt city limits and provide goods or services in the city; it must also have a 2019 annual gross revenue of $3 million or less.

The council members’ businesses are not eligible for grants.

Home-based businesses are run out of a residence. Each qualified applicant is eligible for a flat $500 grant; $100,000 total has been set aside for this category.

Targeted industries are businesses in categories that saw “increased impacts to their operations” due to COVID-19 restrictions. They include businesses that provide the following services:

— Hospitality: Includes hotels.

— Entertainment and recreation: Includes dance, martial arts and gymnastics studios.

— Food service: Includes restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

— Personal services: Includes hair salons, nail salons and fitness centers.

— Daycare: Includes adult and child daycares.

The grant tiers for targeted businesses range from $10,000 to $25,000, based on 2019 revenue. However, if the business’s revenue loss in 2020 compared to 2019 is less than the allotted grant, the amount awarded will be lowered to match the loss.

Nontargeted businesses are those that don’t fall into either of the other categories. The group’s grant tiers range from $5,000 to $15,000, also not to exceed a business’s revenue loss.

Mendes said applicants would submit tax returns or other financial documents to verify income. A third-party firm will evaluate the applications and determine award amounts so that the city does not have direct access to the finances of private businesses.

Chamber of commerce President Kevin Borges spoke in favor of the program early in the meeting.

“We do believe that the application process is pretty simple and streamlined, and we do believe that the program is very generous in comparison to other cities located in our area, and we do believe that this is something that small businesses here in Galt will be able to benefit from,” Borges said.

Mendes noted uncertainty over the number of applications and said adjustments might be made as the applicant response becomes clear.

The initial 30-day application period begins on June 1. Mendes will present a relief program for nonprofits at the June 6 City Council meeting.

Proposed budget, continued

The Council went over the proposed budgets for a variety of city funds after earlier in the month considering the General Fund. Particular focus went to the Parks and Recreation Department fund and how to bolster its ability to maintain the city’s parks and landscaping.

Parks and Recreation Director Armando Solis noted that employees currently mow and maintain parks twice a month, and other landscaping once a month. They prune once a year.

His main proposal for the 2022-23 financial year was to keep those service levels while upgrading one part-time employee to full-time and upgrading the job descriptions of two other part-time workers.

To determine how much it would cost to have a contractor do maintenance instead of keeping the work in-house, the city requested bids. Terracare Associates quoted close to $594,000 for the work. Solis said his proposal would cost about $420,000 to do in-house.

Solis also gave two alternative schemes for Council to consider, both with higher service levels and more full-time employees. Extrapolating from the Terracare bid, Solis estimated that contract work would cost more than in-house work in both cases.

Option 1 would have parks and landscaping mowed and maintained twice monthly, and pruning done twice yearly. Option 2 would restore prepandemic service levels, with parks and landscape getting mowed four times a year, and pruning happening twice a year.

Solis and Parks Maintenance Supervisor Armando Morales spoke about difficulties retaining workers and getting them certified for specialized work. Morales said he believed the best way to increase retention is through higher wages. Meanwhile, staff said, a slow response from state regulators has hindered the city’s effort to get employees certified to spray weeds.

The budget proposal also included up to $50,000 in ARPA funds to have a consulting firm update a report it made in 2013 on ways to make Parks and Rec operations more efficient.

Mayor Shawn Farmer questioned the necessity of the report, saying it would show “that we don’t trust enough in our staff to come up with that.” Hines denied it showed a lack of trust and said it would bring in outside expertise to complement the city’s internal expertise.

Council Member Kevin Papineau voiced support for updating the report, and Council Member Jay Vandenburg wanted to “do both” the update and an attempt to “get back to normal.”

Water, wastewater rates

The city held a study workshop to review water and wastewater rates and cost of service.

Habib Isaac of IB Consulting, with the help of Public Works Director Mike Selling, presented the workshop to Council.

The city is due to review its rates after five years, and staff and IB Consulting are proposing adjustments to rates, ensuring the continuing long-term health of the respective enterprise funds.

At current rates, the revenue of both the water and the wastewater funds is projected to remain steady for the next five years, while the operating expenses will slightly increase. The water fund’s expenses are projected to match and then surpass revenue in 2025. The wastewater expenses catch up to revenue in 2027.

As a result of the review, the five-year proposed financial plan will have an 8% increase in revenue, up till 2027. The wastewater plan proposes revenue increases of 9% for two years, followed by 7% increases for three. Isaac said the city will meet a positive annual operating net income along with other targets in this proposal.

Since all Galt residences are now metered, Isaac recommended adjusting the uniform water rate to a two-tiered structure that uses meter data to better match rate with cost of service. Tier 1 will include the consumers who use up to 900 cubic feet of water. Tier 2 is for the consumers who use more than 900 cubic feet of water.

Under the proposed fixed water charges for 2023, customers would pay $22.26 a month with a meter size of 1 inch or less. People who have a bigger meter size will pay more. Residential prices under variable charges will vary from $0.88 to $1.19 depending on what tier a customer falls in.

The proposed wastewater rates for residential areas in the same year will be a flat fee of $82.62 a month, compared with $78.28 currently.

The proposed wastewater rates for nonresidential areas will fall under three different categories: low strength, medium strength and high strength. Rates for the categories range from $6.97 to $10.76 per month. These costs would increase through 2027.

The proposed fee for single-family residential homes was also discussed. At a proposed rate, each single-family home will be paying a total of $125.89. Approximately $82.00 of that amount is only the fee of wastewater.

Farmer asked about the fairness of charging a family of multiple people the same wastewater rate as a family of one or two. Isaac noted that households that use less water will fall into the lower water rate tier, minimizing their rate increase.

A Proposition 218 hearing on the rates will be set, likely for this summer, allowing public comment.

Virtual attendance

Staff asked council members’ opinions on letting lapse the COVID-19 rules that allow the members the option of attending meetings remotely.

Under Assembly Bill (AB) 361, a government body is required to vote at least monthly to maintain the ability under a public health emergency. Without that determination, members could still attend remotely, but they would have to declare their locations. If California’s state of emergency were revoked, the rules would revert on their own.

Council has been meeting in person continuously since March, but the AB 361 item has remained on the consent calendar.

The council members reached a consensus to keep the item on the consent calendar until the state of emergency is lifted.

Other business

Council adopted a resolution calling a general municipal election and requesting that it be consolidated with the statewide general election. The motion passed 4-0. Currently, the exact cost to hold the general election is unknown. However, the amount will be at least $22,000. Election Day will be on Nov. 8, 2022.

Council presented certificates of recognition to local siblings Katelyn and Brodie Guttridge, who recently achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. For her Eagle Scout project, Katelyn built feeding boxes for feral cats. Brodie created a rock garden at River Oaks Elementary School with rocks painted by the school’s students.

The meeting included a closed session on negotiations for the Galt Police Department union contracts. In public comment, Galt Police Officers Association President Michael Little said the department’s officers are “grossly underpaid” compared to nearby agencies and that the city risks losing quality officers at current pay levels.