Fairfield City Manager Sean Quinn talked recently to the Fairfield-Suisun Rotary Club about events at the city.
It was a very interesting and informative talk. Fairfield, like most cities, has taken some big hits from the downturn in the economy. Property values and related property taxes are way down. The state has taken redevelopment assets and income. Revenue from sales taxes are down.
The city has responded well to the challenges. The number of city employees has fallen from 650 to about 500. About $1.1 million has been shaved from Fire Department overtime. Department heads have assumed the responsibility for other departments when those department heads have departed. A two-tier pension plan has been adopted. New employees will receive a smaller benefit than current employees. At least in some departments..
All in all, a good effort on the part of the city.
I made it a point to tell Quinn so. Unfortunately there is still a significant general fund shortfall. Quinn also mentioned that the two financial conservatives on the council had led a study on possible solutions. The conclusion reached by Councilman John Mraz and Councilwoman Catherine Moy was that a 1 percent increase in sales taxes for the benefit of the city appeared to be the “best solution.” While Quinn did not propose or recommend the sales tax increase, it was clear that it would be an acceptable “solution” to the city’s financial problems.
Unfortunately, the “best solution” is really a non-solution. Government at every level is imposing new taxes and fees on the public because of budgetary shortfalls. The federal government is the worst offender, with 40 percent of every dollar spent, borrowed. New taxes and fees resulting from imposition of the new health care plan are huge. These increases will be on the shoulders of the public.
Threatened refusal to renew the Bush tax cuts will result in the largest tax increase in the history of our nation.
New Environmental Protection Agency regulations result in fees and huge cost increases.
The 15 percent mandate on ethanol will consume more than 40 percent of America’s corn crop, increase the cost of fuel and cause an unavoidable increase in the cost of all foods. That mandate plus a Midwest drought are likely to result in widespread famine.
The federal government has the ability to impose these new costs with the stroke of the president’s pen. And the president has a hot, fast-moving pen, ignored by a gutless Congress.
At the state level, fee increases are the order of the day. Proposed sales and income tax increases through the initiative process are on the ballot. Bullet train bonds are in the wings. A 28 percent increase in tuition expenses at community colleges is a fact. At the county level we see more fee increases and the Bond to Nowhere at Solano Community College. Those bonds, combined with current bond liabilities, will cost county citizens (it is estimated) close to $1 billion over the next 40 years. Locally are proposed increases in utility fees and rates.
That’s where we are. So the “best solution” isn’t a solution.
We do not have bottomless pockets. We are strapped. We can’t afford all these increases. We can’t afford to drive more people and businesses away. We can’t afford government as it is.
This is not intended to be critical of city staff. You are still living with the effects of poor management in the past. These are tough times requiring tough decisions.
Possibilities? Use more volunteers throughout the city. Suisun City uses mainly volunteers in its Fire Department. Reduce management with wider spans of control. Contract out. Renegotiate. Defer. Be creative. Become affordable.
Plan as if the proposed increase will fail. You’ll be ahead of the game if you do.
Murray Bass can be reached at 427-0744 or [email protected]