Shared Services and the Budget
Recently Foster City announced that, subject to Council approval, we will be sharing a Fire Chief with San Mateo. This idea came up when Chief Reaves announced his retirement effective later this month.
Shared services can be controversial. With shared services can come a loss of control, or a change in the culture of an organization. On the other hand, shared services certainly provide cost efficiency. Paying for half of a Fire Chief rather than a full replacement will certainly help Foster City with its structural budget deficit.
I understand that in the past, sharing service among fire departments created some significant controversy. The last time this issue was considered by our City Council we had one of the worst fires in the history of the City and although our Fire Department responded with their usual A+ performance, there was well expressed concern about safety and how shared fire services might effect that. As a result, the issue was dropped and Foster City continued to have its own Fire Department.
Due to reduced revenue issues resulting from the current economy, we are again looking at shared services. Despite that, I can assure you that our top priority is now and always will be to maintain the safety and welfare of Foster City residents at or above the level that we have all come to know and enjoy. Neither I, nor any of the other members of the Council would ever jeopardize safety for cost saving and if we vote to approve a shared Fire Chief, there will be no exception.
This, of course, takes me to the reason we were looking at shared services in the first place, which is the budget. Although I do not believe that we should look at ways to cut expenses only when the economy forces us to do so, that is where we are today, so that was the trigger. The trigger is a big one. We are projecting a $2.4 million structural deficit for 2010-2011. To address this issue we held a budget study session in mid-May that went on for seven hours. During that marathon session I, and other Council members, recommended cuts, some of which received the necessary number of votes and some did not. However, although we did not cut any essential services, such as fire, police, or public works, we did make cuts that will affect a number of residents’ daily lives.
For example, we voted to stop funding the Red and Blue Lines as of January 1, 2011. Those bus lines cost more than $300,000 annually to run, with the City directly paying half of that cost. We also voted to stop funding the extra library hours as of January 1, 2011. Some of you will see a direct impact from these cuts and should be aware that they are coming.
In addition, we voted to cut committee budgets, we voted to cut our own expenses, and we voted to cut a few programs altogether. However, there were areas in which I thought we could make additional cuts, but those were not passed.
Although it was discussed, we did not vote to increase any taxes and most fees were increased a modest 3%, consistent with annual increases from prior years. Some of the Park and Recreation fees were increased by a larger percentage, something I voted against based on my belief that we first make all the cuts we can before we increase fees or taxes. If we end up cutting too deep, the residents will let us know. Until then, we need to cut wherever we reasonably can so that we do not end up like many other cities and the State, having waited too long.
I have also made public my position that the City should stop funding non-profit agencies. There are many great non-profit agencies that do amazing work and provide benefits for residents of Foster City. However, if you or I want to give our money to those agencies, it should be up to you or me. I believe that governments have no place giving tax dollars to non-profits, especially when we do not have enough revenue to meet our own expenses without going into our reserves.
These budget issues are now drawing to a close. We have two more meetings on the issue: June 7 and June 21, both starting at 6:30 p.m. I hope you will attend, but if you cannot attend, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (650) 286-3504.
June 09, 2010
Shared Services and the Budget
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