HERCULES -- For the second year in a row, the City Council unanimously passed a balanced budget Tuesday night and celebrated the fiscal victory as another step toward recovery from harsh years that nearly bankrupted the small town.
Due in large part to the $9.5 million sale of Hercules Municipal Utility to PG&E, the city's $13 million general fund budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 establishes an emergency reserve account of $500,000. Had it not been for the sale of the utility, interim City Manager Phil Batchelor said, the city would be "very close to insolvency."
Along with the general fund budget, the council passed a capital improvement plan that earmarked $16.8 million to various projects, including the long-awaited Intermodal Transit Center, sidewalk repair and replacement throughout Hercules, sewer system repairs, and $800,000 for street improvements.
Other positives that Batchelor highlighted included enhanced security for city computers and a one-time 5 percent salary increase, for the month of June, to city employees.
"In a four-year period, we lost 50 percent of our staff," Batchelor said. "The employees that remained were truly valiant in stepping up and trying to serve the public. They did their best to try and pick up the extra workload."
That additional workload came with salary cuts. "We asked them to do a lot more, and we cut what they were given."
This was Batchelor's last City Council meeting as interim manager, a post he took in January. Incoming City Manager David Briggs will take over next week. Before closing the meeting, the council took a moment to thank Batchelor and reflect on his accomplishments over the past six months.
"I kind of lost confidence in the city manager form of government, because of our past," Mayor Myrna de Vera said, adding that her belief in the system was restored thanks to Batchelor.
Since 2011, when embattled City Manager Nelson Oliva stepped down, Hercules has had a number of interim city managers and one city manager who left the position early in 2013.
Other council members were similarly effusive about Batchelor's ability to help right a town that's been "a bit beat up" over the years.
"You really are proof that superheroes do exist," Councilman John Delgado said. "I'm really glad you came and helped out our city."