FAIRFIELD — Solano County supervisors talked Tuesday about priorities ranging from lowering unemployment to reducing childhood obesity to dealing with a budget deficit.
Christina Harbridge of San Francisco-based Allegory Inc. led the six-hour workshop. At one point, she asked each supervisor to name his or her pet project. Since county government provides services such as rural land planning, rural parks, libraries, health and social services, probation and jails, the possibilities were wide.
Supervisor Jim Spering didn’t hesitate.
“I want to make sure county government does not get in the way of economic prosperity, that we’re not a hurdle or an impediment or obstruction,” Spering said.
Supervisor Linda Seifert couldn’t whittle her choices down to a single priority. She talked of reducing the county unemployment rate from 9.3 percent to 6 percent over five years and finding a way to fund parks and open space within 10 years.
Supervisor Erin Hannigan wants to reduce the high-school dropout rate. She represents Vallejo and said 45 percent to 47 percent of students there don’t graduate.
“That creates the cycle of poverty and a need for health and social services,” Hannigan said.
Hannigan also said she wants the county to address the issue of single-use plastic bags. Some communities have done so because they view plastic bags as a litter and an environmental problem.
Supervisor John Vasquez mentioned his longtime goal of reducing childhood obesity. This goal can include such issues as encouraging people to eat county-grown produce instead of processed foods and having parks where children can exercise. Childhood obesity raises health care costs, he said.
“I think it connects to everything,” Vasquez said.
Supervisor Skip Thomson said his priority comes down to dollars and cents. That includes dealing with a structural deficit to the county general fund.
“Ten million dollars – how and when are we going to get it to zero, if ever?” Thomson said.
For veteran supervisors, the structural deficit is an old story. The county has repeatedly reduced the deficit by making budget cuts and it has grown again in the wake of further state budget cuts trickling down, and because of plummeting property taxes. County savings have kept the general fund in the black.
“Skip alluded to the $10 million deficit,” Vasquez said. “We’ve been chasing that ball down the hill for a long time . . . when does the bottom show up and how do we know we are there?”
Supervisors decided to have a discussion on the structural deficit at a future meeting, to see how it affects their priorities and whether it needs to be immediately reduced to zero or can continue to be managed at some level with savings.
Part of Tuesday’s workshop focused on supervisors getting to know each other better. Spering, Seifert and Vasquez have worked together for four years, so they are familiar with each others’ styles and concerns. But Hannigan and Thomson took their oaths of office only in early January and have yet to work with their colleagues on any weighty issues.
A paper taped to the wall stated the perceived stakes: “Solano County’s future will fall through the gaps in the relationships in this room.”
“I want to make certain when I bring forward ideas, it doesn’t become personal,” Thomson said. “It’s not personal. From my perspective, it’s business.”
No supervisor voiced disagreement.
“It’s not fun being on the dais and being at each other,” Vasquez said, then added in jest, “We’re not Congress. We’re not that dysfunctional.”
Harbridge said that, if voters made the right choices, supervisors will have disagreements. The goal is to work through conflicts to reach what she called “shared outcomes.”
“The person least like us has the most to teach us,” Harbridge said.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.