On January 25th, we held the first in what will be a series of study sessions to discuss the 2010-2011 City budget and underlying policy. The good news is that Foster City has strong reserves, projected to be $21.1 million by June 30, and we expect to be able to balance the budget for 2010-2011 without using our reserves. The bad news is that beginning in the 2011-2012 fiscal year we are looking at a $2 million structural deficit going forward. While we do have reserves that can be used to cover a shortfall, clearly it would not be prudent to simply spend the money without regard to whether it truly needs to be spent or not.
To say the City is well managed is an understatement. Throughout the course of the year, Jim Hardy, our City Manager, and his remarkable staff, are constantly looking at programs, services and individual jobs, to see if there are ways we can do things in a more efficient manner. In that undertaking, this year alone, departments have been consolidated, certain vacant positions have been left open and a small amount of work has been contracted to outside vendors. All of this has resulted in a substantial reduction in expenses and a better than expected 2009-2010. Thank you Jim and staff!
However, in order to do our job as Council Members, which is to make sure that we spend your tax dollars cautiously and wisely, we look at policy. Thus, back in January we looked at a number of areas in which Foster City spends more than other cities or provides program subsidies. While it would seem easy to say that if we do not need something we should not be paying for it, some of these expenses are important because they make Foster City the type of city that we love living in.
The most significant examples are the three major special events, the 4th of July Celebration; Arts & Wine Festival and the Summer Concert Series. The 4th of July Festival costs the City about $90,000; Arts & Wine about $20,000 and the Summer Concert Series about $15,000. The numbers, however, are not the real story. When you ask some people, they view the fireworks show as a Foster City institution. Others love the pancake breakfast and daytime events but loathe the nighttime traffic. Still others see the whole thing as a nuisance. The truth, however, is that feedback comes from only a handful of people and we really remain in the dark on the true desire of the City as a whole. In other words, the problem is communication.
That takes me to the next budget and policy issue, Foster City TV. Our staff tells us that we spend $245,000 each year on FCTV $171,500 of which comes out of our general fund. The next highest spending city, Millbrae, spends $63,700 each year, while Belmont and San Carlos spend $28,000 and about $21,000 respectively. It would seem clear from these numbers that we are spending too much. But are we? Is FCTV the primary means by which people learn of events in Foster City? Do people watch City Council or Planning Commission meetings on FCTV? Do they watch the original programming that it does? Again, the issue is communication. How do we have effective communication not only towards the residents but feedback from them as well?
As Council Members we will make decisions that we believe are in the best interests of all the residents, but as the new guy, it sure would help me if I could hear what people think. Do you want the 4th of July Festival to continue? Do you watch FCTV? Do you use the senior and youth programs that the City subsidizes? Do you use the Foster City Connection Shuttle or the Senior Express Shuttle and how important are they to your daily life? Have you taken the CERT training or do you plan to? Do you know what it is? Would you like to find out more? Again, the problem is communication and I need your help.
Please tell me how I can communicate better with you. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (650) 286-3504, post a comment on my blog at http://cbfostercity.blogspot.com or go to the blog and click on the link to sign up for my newsletter. Thank you.
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