Editor's Note: Six Questions is a new feature in which local residents answer specific questions about life in La Mesa.
1. With the city facing serious financial problems, can you outline the kinds of cuts or efficiencies you think could help address the problems?
Answer: Good Question. First, These are extraordinary times given the Federal and State fiscal crisis and they are trying to solve their messes with more taxes and fees on our citizens and the city's backs! City revenues are no longer sure bets or reliable. Are any of our citizens concerned that their personal income is not subject to decrease? Same with our city. Are expenses to be ignored?
Second, let's look to what we need and the city promised to continue to do. Prop "L", our sales tax initiative passed in 2008 promises and addresses vital services, minimum fiscal financial reserves ratios and re-enforces our need to remember why government exists -- for the residents and guests of the City of La Mesa!...Protect our infrastructure.
Third, at every City Council meeting this year I have requested council approval and involvement in efforts that provide more transparency in the city's negotiation process. I asked that we invite the public and our bargaining unit representatives to discuss potential solutions-- in a non-negotiating stance. The effort to hold a public education workshop on the public labor negotiations process on 2/23/10 passed only 3-2. Making the public aware of what bargaining sides- the city and labor's representatives- opening positions would be failed by a 4-1 vote. Requesting that negotiated labor contracts (memorandums of understanding) be allowed additional time for public review, failed 3-2.
Fourth so what suggestions, recommendations has the council put forward as well as the city employee's bargaining units, for the upcoming fiscal year and and perhaps beyond? Council -- nothing formally, although the city manager will bring some thoughts to the council in closed session as to our upcoming negotiations and final budget adjustments. What has come from the city's bargaining units? NIL.
So this is what I think we should be doing:
A) Zero Based Budgeting ZBB...Everything we do has to be priced and costed out, seeking efficiency, return on investment and valuated purpose. (Why have the high number of unemployed workers in California not yet effected our labor costs?). ZBB-applies to grant supported programs- total cost coverage including the retirement cost/contribution and the on-going CalPers performance adjustment component.
B) Look at our continued financial commitments/ expectations at least for the next 5 years. Set aside the necessary funds based upon what we now know...do not increase our current expense baseline with an artificial "it always turns around" attitude.
A two-tier retirement system must be established for new hires- NOW. Just because we have a retirement obligation does not mean that we must fund it forever from the General Fund without considering it as a new total compensation value to all employees in each current year. We are running out of others peoples' money!
C) Establish written priorities. Outsourcing, consolidations, re-prioritization, seeking multi- municipal partnerships, citizen volunteer opportunity expansion, have our city costs compete against other market forces...It is our duty to maximize every tax dollar value! Put it in Writing!
D) Establish an Independent Citizen's Financial Advisory Committee of 7.
2. La Mesa has already moved to consolidate fire services with surrounding communities, would you consider the same for other services? Police? Parks?
Take a look at the budget and extended revenue impacts for the foreseeable future and the needed services to the community. Everything we do is on the table, even if only to say that it will continue and at that level of service.
Fire Consolidation so far is low hanging fruit. I want to see the 2009-10 expense baseline. Let's see how long it will be before parity in all Heartland Fire Staff total compensation is sought...some participating municipal costs are higher than La Mesa at this point. The same analysis applies going forward.
3. Given La Mesa's central location in the county -- crisscrossed by highways, trolley and bus lines -- can the city "grow'' its way out of fiscal problems by attracting more development?
Development is only one aspect of a viable city fiscal solution. We need to always be looking at a long term horizon. There are regional General Plan expectations as to housing elements as well as environmental considerations that we must work within. Perhaps "business" enterprise will naturally follow.
Public/Private partnerships that make sense and must be pursued. La Mesa has no more real open space and so re-inventing appropriate uses for existing properties will be critical. The project at the Grossmont Trolley Station is a good example. Some downtown proposals merit consideration in some form.
No, we can not just grow our way out without fiscal spending restraint and discipline.
4. Just a generation or so ago, this town was largely ranch lands. Now it sees itself as a small town. How do you see it developing in the next 20 years?
I can talk about going to Murray Manor Elementary 55 years ago and watching our community and the East County region change since. The future will be good if we are in control of our fiscal destiny not the other way around. Hopefully our La Mesa neighborhoods will be centered around green belts, more small parks, open space and a viable public transit system.
We are fortunate to have a regional shopping center as well as a Downtown Village poised for re-incarnation. Continued mixed use will be the most viable approach. I also hope to see new families move in and an improved ability to provide a safer and better community for all families and residents. These are quality of life issue.
5. Is La Mesa ready to handle a major disaster
Our public safety personnel are well trained but it really depends on the degree of preparedness our citizens and neighborhoods have. We only have limited staff regardless of when or in what form a disaster happens. Our public safety staff could be quickly overwhelmed. Seventy-two hours is the minimum for our citizens to be prepared to care for themselves in the aftermath of a major catastrophe. The council recently approved (5-0) a request from Council Member Mark Arapostathis and I for staff time to support our efforts to expand and combine a Neighborhood Watch and Citizen Emergency Preparedness approach.
6. Would you like to be mayor?