Our Precarious Budget
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Our Precarious Budget

Four years ago your City Council and staff spent months going line by line examining our budget and how we could possibly find a way to solve a nearly $5 million structural deficit. We gave ourselves 3 years to attempt this ambitious endeavor and achieve a balanced budget.

I must say the City Council also asked staff to try not to incur any layoffs or disruption of services to Foster City, making this now an extremely difficult task.

I was part of that process and the promise was to balance our budget by 2013/14. As it got closer to approving our budget this year I offered that maybe we should push it back a year to give ourselves some breathing room since we had $20 million in reserves.

Staff and Council decided no…..it is doable and it was. I am proud to say that the vote to approve our balanced budget by a margin of 4-1 four months ago was extremely satisfying for so many of us involved in the process. I was proud we accomplished this goal in my year as mayor and my final year on the Council.

Staff found ways, through our policy direction, to avoid lay-offs and disruption of services. Department directors consolidated jobs, moved employees around and changed their job descriptions. Our Fire Department found the biggest way to save money was to share services with San Mateo and now Belmont………these were all innovative ways to try to solve this issue with the least amount of pain for employees and residents. Everyone made sacrifices. We had several folks retire in the last year which allowed us to tweak workloads and work with consultants a little more, saving salary and benefit costs.

One option recommended to us was to increase the Recology franchise fee to our residents and businesses from 5% to 10% which would ultimately impact the solid waste rates. The Council approved that direction by a 3-2 vote last December. This increase would help balance our budget by approximately $300,000. The fee to most residential Recology subscribers would increase between $0.59 and $0.95 per month. At that time I voted for this increase because I felt it gave all the residents a chance to share in helping to balance our budget in a tiny way but nonetheless the outcome would be beneficial to the entire city.

Remember Recology has not raised their rates to the city which seems the perception folks have. The service they provide is the best deal in town and in talking to residents they are very happy with their service. I asked many friends and residents and my thoughts were validated that they wanted to be part of the solution to balance the budget.

Some think it is a tax disguised by using the word fee……..whatever you name it, we needed it.

An odd thing happened at our October 7th council meeting however!! A motion was made to roll back that policy we had voted yes on months ago to the old fee of 5% which would in essence deduct approximately $300,000 from our projected revenues. I voted no to that motion but it passed 3-2. It was an extremely disappointing moment. Beginning in January 2014 our budget will not be balanced…….after three years of hard work.

The good news is that with the projection of revenue from all the development projects on the books, I feel our future is good and revenues should be increasing. In the next couple of years we will face more challenges in keeping the budget balanced. However, with property taxes and sales taxes on the rise, the odds are in our favor.

If anyone hasn't noticed…….we still do not have signed contracts with our three major labor groups in Foster City. They are awesome, they are due and they are/have been patient. We need to find income wherever we can find it. When residents complain about salaries and benefits that we pay our employees, please remember Foster City provides services (no products to sell) and look around at all you and I have in our little corner of the world……..you and I are so lucky to live in Foster City. Our quality of life and safety are priceless.

Vote yes on Measure U which will increase business licenses taxes and fees (there are those words again) since they have not been increased for over 40 years.

Finally, I concern myself with the health, safety and welfare of Foster City residents. While I find education extremely important, I have no power to make policy for the Trustees of the San Mateo/Foster City School District…..the Trustees have that power. However, we seem to all have the same interest at heart……..quality education for all those in both San Mateo and Foster City.

It is imperative you vote for Measure P as well!!!!

I welcome your comments, email me at pfrisella@fostercity.org

Council Corner

October 23, 2013
Our Precarious Budget
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