This is the final of eight questions. The candidates get exactly 250 words. The answer was due at 9 pm on Thursday.
Question 8: What measures would you take in order to contain city costs? Please consider in your answer: employee compensation, city infrastructure including roads, city services including police and fire.
Several steps must be taken to restore fiscal health to the City.
- Better manage assets. For example: Leasing 240 acres for 40 years in a no-bid process to BrightNight Energy, (a company that did not exist before the deal and has no track record) was an irresponsible decision that will result in much diminished returns on a City asset.
- Complete an independent and robust fiscal audit. Where can we cut? Can anything be refinanced to lower costs (like city bonds?) Are there underperforming assets?
- Review infrastructure city wide. Are there key investments that can be made to reduce lifecycle costs? For example, roads in ill repair cost more to maintain than roads in good repair. Investing now to stop road degradation will head off future costs.
- Invest in infrastructure that will save money through reducing energy costs: For example: parking lot and rooftop solar, ground loop HVAC, and solar water.
- Collaborate with DJUSD and UCD to find cost savings by sharing personnel and resources.
- Reevaluate development impact fees to make sure they truly cover impacts. It makes no sense that a 5-bedroom and a 1-bedroom apartment have the same impact fee.
- Every new expenditure needs to be balanced with offsets.
- Include tools to measure financial performance in the new General Plan, as well as policies for prioritizing or reallocating funding. This better assures community driven desires.
I’m always mindful of spending city revenues carefully. I’m also always looking for ways to increase revenue to the city (outside of citizens constantly being subjected to additional tax measures). Two recent examples include: cannabis dispensary/delivery revenue and increased Transient Occupancy Taxes (TOT) via new hotel construction.
Much of the city’s expenses are related to labor costs. I’m proud of our city employees; they provide our residents with excellent service. We’ve recently completed lengthy negotiations with all employee bargaining units and signed the first long-term (4 year) contracts in well over a decade.
Unlike previous contracts, the new agreements implement a cost-sharing program for the duration of the contract, where employees may pay up to an additional 1% of their salary each year, for the last two years of the agreement, if actual CalPERS retirement costs increase beyond current City projections. If CalPERS costs are lower than current projections, employees may receive up to 1% additional salary.
We’ve worked to change the conversation from one of salary only to one of total compensation, and these agreements acknowledge total compensation and includes a cost sharing component based on CalPERS retirement costs. These new contracts represent a sizeable step to move the City forward.
The COVID pandemic has already had a serious effect. In response, we made adjustments and the adopted 2020-21 budget includes $1 million in employee salary reductions assumed for all employees. This savings will be achieved by implementation of furlough days as voluntarily agreed to by employee groups.
Early in my first term, I led the efforts to overhaul our city budget process, which resulted in improved transparency and a more strategic two-year budget with quarterly check-ins. Exposing our budget to more thorough review also resulted in a true reckoning of our unfunded infrastructure and staffing liabilities.
We have made so many great strides forward on this issue as a community, but the current economic situation is once again grave and renewed calls for increased transparency must be taken seriously.
If elected, I will encourage a fresh in-depth budget review in the first quarter of 2021, line by line and page by page. I will prioritize necessity of service and return on investment -socially responsible and economically sustainable. We should review our staffing from top to bottom and assess what is essential to the healthy running of a city. This top to bottom approach encompasses public safety, infrastructure and services. This review should be done in workshop format with full inclusion of the community to ensure our budget tightening reflects the priorities of the community.
We should fully engage in regional efforts to ensure that our boats rise along with the region. Economies of scale and a plurality of voices attract investment from public and private resources – including anticipated federal stimulus dollars. Trying to solve them alone is short-sighted. We should outline where we want to be in the next two, four, eight years and beyond, then lay out the steps to get there.
The next City Council must create a cost containment task force. This was discussed in 2017 and didn’t happen. We are fortunate to have a very engaged citizenry and in the past the city council has called upon our community to help solve some of our biggest challenges through the creation of task forces, we must do that again!
Like most cities, a significant portion of our general fund budget is allocated to police and fire services. I would like the City to look at restructuring department budgets so that social services, like support for the homeless, are removed from the law enforcement umbrella. We need to be more thoughtful about how cities have trended towards criminalizing poverty and mental health.
Davis’ road infrastructure problems are in part due to a lack of a preventive maintenance program. Within a city’s limited budget, funds must be allocated to the most significant needs but a reasonable amount of funds should always be allocated for preventive maintenance, then the problem areas are reduced from the inventory while a large portion of still good and serviceable roads are kept in good condition.
We have union contracts that have been negotiated in good faith over years. During the 2008 recession, California’s unions worked with local governments and reduced compensation packages in order to weather the storm together. As the pandemic continues and if federal bailouts do not come, I trust that we will be able to meet and work together on the best solutions.
I’d work to contain City costs in two general ways; direct and indirect. On the indirect side, I’d use the platform and prestige of City Council to help push for larger changes around state and federal funding priorities (less policing and prisons, more services) as well as universal healthcare (either from the federal government or the state) which would not only be beneficial on its own, but could also reduce the cost of municipal employee health insurance.
On the direct side, I’d start transferring funds from the Davis Police Department to public safety programs which would certainly help create strong communities but also, given the experience of other jurisdictions, would likely be less costly than policing as well.
I’m not in favor of reducing the compensation most City employees receive (and I think we should be working toward a society where everyone has proper pay, benefits, and protections rather than using the mistreatment of some workers to justify mistreating others) but I would be willing to consider compensation reductions for the highest paid employees, especially those in management-style positions.
Finally, on City infrastructure, I think a lot of projects are needed but under the current system, we won’t be able to complete all of them (because capitalism is inefficient and unethical) so we’ll need to decide which projects, or aspects of projects (for any that can be adjusted, modified, or done in parts), to prioritize by having robust community conversations and input that centers the most marginalized.
Davis has no financial buffer after the longest period of continuous economic growth in modern history. That is poor planning. Going forward, we need automatic smoothing mechanisms to prepare for recessionary periods. Here are the first four short-term steps I would have taken six months ago to ensure a balanced pandemic budget.
First, implement robust campaigns to incentivize local spending. A large portion of our community saw little change to their income. What did change were their habits. Had we immediately put funds towards creating outdoor spaces and promoting the survival of local establishments, Davisites would have formed different pandemic habits than they have now.
Second, levels of service should not decrease, but the delivery of these services can shift to more fiscally responsible options. For example, reporting crimes like bicycle theft should be done online with necessary accommodation available. Another example of excessive response would be the five police officers, EMS, and fire truck I witnessed respond to address a single person downtown.
Third, consultants go first. The city needs to better utilize our knowledgeable community members who are willing to offer their expertise.
Fourth, pause research projects. As a researcher, I understand the importance of gaining knowledge to inform decisions going forward. However, if we cannot find grants to fund these at this time, they may need to wait.
Long-term is a different story where much of the budget is tied up in pensions and benefits. The first three steps apply, but here are my other long-term suggestions.
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