Walking the Walk
When I ran for City Council starting about a year ago, my principal platform was that I would be a fiscal conservative. The economy is as bad as it has been since the Great Depression, cities all around us were having severe financial issues, and even Foster City was projecting a $2 million future deficit.
When we started looking at the budget in January we were still thinking that we would have a balanced budget for the year and therefore some time to look at budget cuts. However, in March all that changed and we realized that we are now out of time and facing a budget deficit this year of $3.5 million. When I learned that, I realized immediately that the time for talking was over; it was time to walk the walk.
Over the next several months as we conducted public study sessions on the budget I suggested a number of cuts with the goal of cutting an additional $500,000 from the initial budget proposal that we had been reviewing. As I saw it, cutting $500,000 more this year would give us that much more in reserves for the following years, reducing the risk that we would be in a position such as San Carlos is in having voted to disband its police department and hire the County to police its streets.
As many of you saw when watching the Council Meetings, I encountered resistance to many of my suggestions, as did Mayor Wykoff, and we went back and forth at one meeting for seven hours trying to make cuts in the budget. We were proposing cuts that we believed would have little impact on most Foster City residents. Nonetheless, we were unsuccessful in most of these efforts and the budget cuts ended up totaling much less than I had hoped. I understand the rationale of the other Council Members and I respect their opinions, however I do, for the most part, disagree.
As pointed out in a recent Council Corner by another Council Member, we need to act or we will have spent the vast majority of our reserves in just a few years. The five-year projection shows that we must cut $900,000 for 2011-2012, $900,000 for 2012 - 2013 and $1,100,000 for 2013-2014 and even that will leave us with a reserve of 60% of what we have now!
My concern about this is how are we going to be able to cut $900,000 or more each year for the next three years when we could not even get much above $100,000 in cuts this year! Hard decisions are going to have to be made! Decisions that not all residents are going to like, but decisions that are in the best interest of the City as a whole! I am not interested in raising taxes to cover this deficit and so we are going to have to figure out where to cut and do it!
Maybe you think that is alarmist, I think it is how I should act - hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Here is my plan on how to get started.
I do not think it should be left up to the staff to decide where to make cuts. I agree that they should provide advice and certainly implementation, but setting policy on these issues is the Council's job.
Cutting 10% across the board is also not effective management. Effective management is for the City Council to look at what the City is doing and set policy as to ways in which non-essential services can be cut or reduced and the essential services can be provided more efficiently.
I know that some of my ideas will be controversial and I do not take it lightly that I am suggesting that some people will lose their jobs. However, those are the tough decisions that I believe I was elected to make and I think that in bad economic conditions some must lose their jobs so that others may keep them and so that the City can continue to provide essential services at the levels the our residents have become accustomed.
Here are my suggestions for the first year:
I know that some of our residents will feel the impact of spending cuts more than others, and I think we need to do more outreach to advise those in need of the services that are provided on a County and State basis to help. However, in difficult times we must all be willing to do our part to help maintain the wonderful life we have here in our City.
- Cut back Foster City TV to provide only televised Council Meetings and Planning Commission Meetings. Savings $100,000+
- Charge $2 per ride for the Blue and Red lines while studying ridership and cost. Savings $80,000+
- Eliminate all paid internship positions paid out of the general fund. Savings $75,000
- Cut funding for all City events and committees by 50%. Savings $75,000
- Study the possibility of becoming an out-sourced service provider to other cities for Information Technology, Human Resources, and Equipment Purchase and Maintenance. Savings - unknown but could be significant, perhaps $500,000 or more in additional revenue.
I know that the staff will be making suggestions to us in the coming months and I am hopeful that we can look at these issues as part of that process.
Tell me what you think. Share your ideas with me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (650) 286-3504.
July 14, 2010
Walking the Walk
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