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Moraga Has Money, Town Manager Says, But It Needs To Act To Preserve Its Future – Will We?

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Several readers have noted recent media reports carrying Big Media banners and focusing on our little town, dropping scary words like bankruptcy and painting a bleak picture of the town’s future as sink holes and swaying bridges drain our coffers.

Moraga prides itself on its “pass the hat” approach to its fiscal needs and the community has rallied more than once to fund a needy program or play structure.

But the Fiscal Double Whammy presented by the emergence of Chuck the Sink Hole last year and, more recently but just as alarmingly the shifting piers beneath Canyon Bridge, has presented an enormous, multi-million dollar challenge for a small town that still passes the licorice tub to help fund its Fourth of July Fireworks Show.

Along with those of you who saw the town mentioned in recent MSM stories was former Moraga Police Chief and current Town Manager Robert “Bob” Priebe, who seemed yanked off enough by the press attention to fire off a little clarifying missive of his own.

Priebe wrote: “The need for additional revenue to provide basic services and address asset replacement and maintenance and repair of critical infrastructure in our community is nothing new. In 2009 a comprehensive study was undertaken by a stellar group of
Moraga citizens. It basically concluded the same thing: Moraga doesn’t have a spending problem, it has a revenue problem.”

That may be hard to swallow in the land of Porsches and home theaters, but like most places in America these days it also has a demonstrated aversion to what Priebe describes as: “…future revenue measures to maintain the community’s top priorities.”

Now, there are only a few ways beyond the aforementioned licorice tub to raise revenues and we’ve seen some taxpayer pushback to those measures in the past, but it is clear the town and its leaders feel something needs to be done. And so does Priebe, who said he intends to take his message to the citizenry.

“In the coming weeks, a number of public engagement opportunities will be scheduled, including a community meeting, open to all, to discuss the fiscal emergency and the current Town budget, including recently approved employment agreements for Town employees, current and future Town needs, and the real consequences of continuing on the same path. I have dedicated almost 38 years of service to this Town and have recommended these actions to ensure the viability of Moraga today and for years to come. I hope we are able to provide the information necessary for all of us to establish common goals and come together as a community to proactively define the future of the Town.”

That’s certainly an admirable approach, but as long-time residents and Moraga Observers we can remember some down-and-dirty community dogfights over, well, our dog park, speed bumps, our fire district pension plan and other issues which may have seemed resolvable at the outset but took on the fissionable quality of weapons-grade plutonium over time.

As well as announcing his plans for a community outreach, Priebe also took media big and small and mainstream and digital to task for their reporting on his town’s current fiscal woes:

“In addition to reporting by some media outlets, local social media sites are conveying misinformation and claims that need to be addressed,” he wrote. “… which I intend to do.”

Whoa. Remembering that Priebe was a police officer in town and knows a come-along hold or two that last bit had us searching our archives for any stories we may have posted lambasting his work. But we came up empty. So far.

Anyway, the Town Manager, the town, and its residents appear to have their work cut out for them as we battle infrastructure needs, traffic, the departure of local businesses, and other issues other towns are addressing along with us.

We’ll just have to wait and see how we do.

13 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t have a spending problem either! I have a revenue problem — not enough of it!

  2. Immediately suggesting a revenue problem seems to be jumping the gun, given the 2012 approval by town voters of a 1% Sales Tax increase. At the time, that put Moraga at one of the highest sales tax rates in the entire state, and at our current 9.25% the sales tax in town is still much higher than the rest of the county. Yes, it takes money to run the town, but pension commitments have continually been shown to be extremely high and I know I’m not the only voter raw at the memory of the Nowicki pension shakedown… And of course, watching the discussions of the Poet Laureate soap opera on community access TV just gives the entire discussion a comical edge. What a town!

  3. It sends a mixed message when you vote yourself a pay raise two weeks before sounding the alarm.

  4. I fear Mr. Priebe’s comments are just spin, in particular the part about the revenue enhancement committee that “basically concluded the same thing: Moraga doesn’t have a spending problem, it has a revenue problem”. What confuses me is that the committee report specifically indicates their chartered focus was REVENUE and they SPECIFICALLY INDICATE THEY DIDN’T LOOK AT EXPENSES or operational effeciency/effectiveness at all. Some quotes from their report:

    Executive Summary, p ii: The REC’s purpose was: “To recommend to the Town Council
    potential strategies for enhancing existing and creating new
    revenue sources to the General Fund and special purpose needs.”

    Process and Goals – Page 9: The Revenue Enhancement Committee (REC) charter was adopted by the Town Council in March 2009 (see box at right). The Town Council contemplated a work
    program focused on new revenue streams and improvement of existing revenue
    sources. The objective was to identify opportunities for enhanced revenues that would
    be more reliable and enduring than the current revenue sources. The Town Council did
    not ask the Committee to analyze expenditures since expenditures are the subject of the
    annual budgeting process, which is conducted publicly during the first half of each
    calendar year.

    So, which is it?

  5. Loosen permitting for dachas. Change name to Moragastan. Apply for funding from high-flying New York developers fluent in Russian. Deny entry permit to moose and squirrel. Let’s make deal!

  6. On a more serious note, I do hope the “public engagement opportunities” promised by Mr. Priebe can produce some sort of consensus on the facts. We do need to function as a community.

  7. We have a problem with our governance structure. The “Council-Manager” form of governance requires strong political leadership by placing most of the power and decision making authority on our town council with the Town Manager following their lead(and very limited in his or her power). I’ve lived here 20 years and known personally many of our town council members. They are all decent and well intended individuals, but there isn’t one of them I would want helping run my business or advising me on my finances. It is a part time, unpaid role taken on by people who have their own careers, families, obligations, etc. Can we realistically expect them to fulfill the role of strong political leader or visionary? To dig into the details and implement difficult long term plans out 10 or 20 years? Or will they invariably spend most of their time reacting to short term problems and then cycle off the council after a few years?(Dog park drama, speed bumps, OSH/Dollar Tree destroying our town…to name a few). This “light touch” approach of governing is great if you don’t want a lot of change but its bad if you want long term thinking and to avoid a “fiscal emergency” like our present situation. I smell a “special assessment” coming and that ticks me off as I’ve seen the turnover and kicking the can mentality for two decades. Our present situation was avoidable. I would advocate for a full time and paid mayor elected separately from the town council with stronger, but limited powers(subject to town council approval) that could serve as totally focused professional in charge.

  8. Name the sites, news outlets you feel are disseminating false information. I would like to know who we’re talking about. I think I know, but I’d like to hear what the city says.

  9. California is a great state with great things to see and do but it is costing far too much to live here.

  10. If you elect the mayor, you’ll now be limited to people who live in Moraga. With a city manager, you can select from a larger pool of people. Moraga simply doesn’t have the population to support an elected mayor who would function as a paid administrative leader.

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