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Pokorny resigns as city manager following optimistic presentation on budget

After an upbeat presentation on the state of the city May 15, City Manager Gary Pokorny announced his resignation.

Pokorny, who has been with the city since 1989, said he will see the city through the current budget process and start it on its way toward selecting a new city manager before leaving his post late this summer "to pursue new career directions."

After the meeting, Pokorny said he will officially retire but will likely, after some time off, work in some capacity such as an interim city manager or consultant, or in teaching. Pokorny said the decision to leave was his, made for both professional and personal reasons, and that he intends to remain an El Cerrito resident.

Mayor Mark Friedman said Pokorny would be "sorely missed" by city employees, residents and council members.

The announcement came at the end of Pokorny's presentation of his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.

Pokorny said the budget contains no surprises but reflects a comparatively bright outlook for El Cerrito in the near future. El Cerrito will see a boost in income due to the "vigorous Bay Area economy" and the resultant boost in the real estate market. For El Cerrito, this means increased property transfer taxes as houses that had been converted to rentals in the 1990s are being sold, additional parcels being developed resulting in property tax increases, as well as homes being remodeled and expanded.

Pokorny estimated a 6 percent increase in property taxes, the city's largest source of income. He also estimated a 3 percent increase in the second largest source of income for the city, sales tax. The increase should be even larger the following year, he said, if plans go as expected to revitalize the El Cerrito Plaza and to move and expand El Cerrito Honda.

Another bright spot in the city budget, he said, is the impact of the voter-approved Measure A, which in addition to funding renovation of the pool and several smaller park projects mandates that funds be set aside each year for capital improvement. That fund, he said, will provide about a half million dollars each year for the city to begin tackling its backlog of capital improvement projects. His recommended budget puts half of that into street repairs and leaves the other half open for the council to allocate. The budget also includes funds in the general reserve that can be shifted to fill the city's economic development goals as the council appoints an Economic Development Board and moves ahead with those plans.

He noted that about 70 percent of the city's budget goes to providing public safety.

The gains for the city,Pokorny said, are tempered by constraints from the state.

He noted that the budget surplus the state is now enjoying is due in large part to a change made in 1993 that shifted funds from cities and counties to the state. There's no indication the state is going to undo that shift or even give any of the surplus back to cities.

"Its clear that the property tax theft of 1993 has become a permanent system," he said.

El Cerrito's budget, he said, reflects the fact that the city will continue to look for ways to run as efficiently as possible and emphasize direct service over administrative costs. For example, he said, a police commander position that is vacant will be dropped in favor of an additional traffic enforcement officer.

Pokorny said when he arrived in 1989, El Cerrito had no reserves and had to borrow money to buy vehicles. "It was not a pretty picture." The city now has a balanced budget and amble reserves and can begin to look at reinvesting in facilities such as the city pool and streets. Pokorny said it's "a good time to move on."

He lavished praise on the city staff, from his department heads to the city's hundreds of volunteers. He said he regularly gets compliments from other professionals and letters and calls of thank you praising city staff.

The budget will be reviewed more closely and public comment taken at budget sessions 7:30 pm May 22 at the Community Center, 7:30 pm May 30 at the Senior Center and, if needed, 7:30 pm June 13 at the Senior Center.

In other action, the council:

* heard an update on an offer of dedication of land from the El Cerrito Plaza Co. for the restoration of Cerrito Creek. City Attorney Howard Stern said he has additional checking to do before he is ready to bring the offer to the council for its acceptance.

The offer on Cerrito Creek, which runs along the Plaza property near the Albany border, is being made in connection with plans to revitalize the Plaza. The Plaza owners originally offered to dedicate 10 feet along the creek to the city, which plans to restore the area, but creek proponents said that wasn't enough to properly restore portions of the creek. The proposed agreement allows for a greater area to be dedicated in three key areas of the creek, according to Councilwoman Kathie Perka, who was involved in negotiating the terms.

The ownership of most of the Plaza is changing hands but the new owners, Regency Realty, support the dedication, according to Perka and Councilwoman Gina Brusatori. Brusatori said another issue still to be resolved is what to do about utility poles running through the creek area. A decision needs to be made whether to underground the poles or move them, if they are moved where they will go, and how the work will be funded.

*approved an application for a California Department of Water Resources Urban Streams Restoration Program Grant for the North Fork of Cerrito Creek at Huber Park; The city has already applied for a grant for work on Cerrito Creek near the Plaza;

*agreed to apply for $6,957 under the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act (Bottle Bill) for the year 2000-2001. The funds would be used to increase beverage container recycling by installing containers along San Pablo Avenue and in city parks.

Run dates: 2000-05-15 - 2000-05-31

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