We recently had an issue to vote on regarding Recology – the rates we would approve for solid waste collection, including the franchise fee rate we would levy on Recology. The City Council voted to keep the collection rates the same as we charge in 2012 – your rates will not increase, and will remain the lowest of all of the agencies in the South Bay Waste Management Authority’s area. However, we decided to increase the franchise fee from 5% to 10%, which increases the amount that Recology pays the City for the opportunity to provide services to our community. I wanted to explain the reasons why I decided to vote yes on this fee increase to Recology.
This decision adds an additional $275,000 per year to our general fund. Foster City decided three years ago to close the gap on our structural deficit by 2013-14. We gave staff direction to “make it happen”. The staff of Foster City set out to solve the 2.5 Million dollar deficit in a myriad of ways. It is our job, as elected officials, to set the policy and the staff to explore all departments, staffing, revenues, expenditures, consolidations – generally turning the city upside down to find solutions. Through that process, we uncovered several viable ways to balance our budget by 2013-14.
I am happy to say that through attending so many county wide functions over the years and networking with other council members and employees from other cities, a few council members came forth with a possible way to combine fire command staff with San Mateo and save approximately $700,000 per year for our City. The final stage of the consolidation of fire management and prevention services will take place in 2013-14, and we continue to seek other opportunities in working with neighboring cities to reduce our total costs for fire services while still maintaining the high quality services and response times of our fire department.
While we hated to lose good employees, there were several employees due to retire. Through that attrition we saved more money by not filling those positions, backfilling the work with our existing workforce, and maintaining our core services to the community. Through these efforts, we saved more money.
At the end of 2011-12 budget year, City staff was able to turn $1.6 million in budget savings back to the General Fund that we did not need to spend to accomplish our goals for the year. The City has been conservative in its budget philosophy – overestimating expenditures and underestimating revenues. While staff looks at tightening those numbers for next year, it is possible that in 2012-13 we might have $1 million in budgetary savings when we close the books in 2012-13. We need to tighten those estimates so we will have a clearer picture of our finances. Although we budgeted a $2.5 deficit in 2011-12, when we closed the books we actually had an $800,000 surplus.
I have been saying, along with a few other council members that we are in good financial shape and the panic message that some are sending out is unwarranted. Yes we do need to tighten our belts and yes we need to be fiscally responsible but we don’t have to scream “fire” when there isn’t one.
It is not my job to go to each department to make sure they are tasked with the correct amount of work, that is our City Manager’s job. My job is to set policy on the health, safety and welfare of the residents of Foster City. If the City Manager says we are at the bare minimum of employees needed to run this city based on the nature and levels of services I expect as a policymaker, then I accept that fact.
The only mistake I feel the City has made was protecting the interests of our residents almost to a fault. We have made sure we have just charged folks for the actual amounts we have needed to pay for services. Most cities keep the extra they charge to make sure their cities run. Unfortunately now in leaner times with less property tax, falling revenues and increased expenses, we need to look at additional revenue sources. We all need to share in the solution.
Charging Recology higher franchise fees levies a greater burden on them, yet I understand fully their right to pass through these costs on to you and me as ratepayers. In the end, this decision increases our general fund revenues, allowing us to continue the quality services levels you expect from us as a City, but does NOT increase your rates for 2013. Might there be an increase in your rates two years from now?….maybe….but service comes at a cost. Some call it a back handed tax disguised as a fee, however I thought long and hard about this issue. The franchise fee we charge Recology is not a tax. Rather, the issue is this – what is the appropriate level of revenues that the City should expect from a business / service provider that wishes to provide services in our community? Franchise fees are payment for the opportunity to use our rights of way (streets) to run a business. PG&E pays a franchise fee to the City at the maximum rate allowed under a long-term franchise agreement. Comcast and AT&T pay franchise fees to the City at the maximum rate allowed under Federal law. Similarly, Recology can and should pay an appropriate rate for the opportunity to operate their business and provide services to our community under their franchise agreement. I believe that rate should be higher than the 5% they were paying, and thus agree that it should be raised to 10%.
I was elected seven years ago by the residents of this city that trust my judgment. Most knew me for over 30 years and knew my experience in life prepared me for public service. The values I bring to the table include my passion for fairness, loyalty, respect and trust. These values transcend nationalities, cultures and religions.
The public expects and deserves to have the person they elected do the right thing. I ask myself if the official method of conduct is going to meet MY standards of ethical behavior as well as my constituent’s standards.
Dr. King and Ghandi observed the means are the end in a democracy and good ends cannot come from questionable means. The “means” are the efforts from our staff and the only outcome I look at is how I can contribute with a vote I feel is well meaning and fair to all.
I have no agenda except to be the steward of your trust!!!
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