City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

May 25, 2011
Sacramento council members give up 'slush fund' money

After a few years of keeping their budgets fairly untouched, the City Council made a significant concession on Tuesday.

In a unanimous vote, the council decided to transfer revenue from cell phone towers and electronic billboards into the general fund, which pays for cops, firefighters and parks. I mentioned the giveback in my story today about the city's budget situation, but wanted to take a deeper look at the impact.

Some have described the money as "slush funds," paying for nothing but pet projects and political favors. But there's another side to that. Many council members - especially those representing challenged neighborhoods - have relied on the revenue for programs and services that would have been axed otherwise.

The revenue - which totaled roughly $665,000 - has been split up between the council members, based on the number of cell towers and billboards in each district. Council members were then free to spend the cash as they pleased, relying on the money to fund teen centers and swimming pool hours.

And giving up the money is going to be hard for some.

The two biggest pools went to Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy ($189,681) and Bonnie Pannell ($150,422), both of whom represent challenged neighborhoods. Sheedy and Pannell are also facing re-election next year, and both have certainly built support in their districts through programs and services they've funded with their cell tower and billboard money.

For her part, Pannell said she was "pissed" that the money was going away and said she would "never apologize" for sticking up for her district, which includes the depressed Meadowview area.

Pannell and others will be able to hold onto their discretionary spending accounts, which are filled with $55,000 each year. The city manager's office had proposed cutting those accounts in half, a move that Mayor Kevin Johnson said he supported, but opted for the cell tower/billboard proposal by Councilman Rob Fong instead.

Here's what each council member is giving up from their cell tower/billboard accounts starting with the upcoming fiscal year:

Angelique Ashby, District 1: $79,753
Sandy Sheedy, District 2: $189,681
Steve Cohn, District 3: $38,499
Rob Fong, District 4: $80,386
Jay Schenirer, District 5: $40,521
Kevin McCarty, District 6: $59,421
Darrell Fong, District 7: $26,384
Bonnie Pannell, District 8: $150,422

Total: $665,067

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About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at rlillis@sacbee.com

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