When I was sworn into office as Mayor on January 3rd, 2010, I pledged to do my best to make sure the City would maintain services without raising taxes. I am pleased to report that after one year of office I can say that we have achieved this goal. I wish this could always be the case, but I have also learned that the City does not have unlimited resources to maintain the same levels of service indefinitely. Indeed, I have received many calls and have read many letters, emails and postings on the City’s Facebook page from concerned citizens that are not satisfied with the level of service the City is providing in certain areas. I share their frustration on a number of issues including snow removal, irrigation, community “eye-sores”, loose dogs, feral cats, rough roads, and more. It is quite possible to overcome any of these issues with the right investment of time, labor and equipment. Unfortunately, the City can’t fix these problems without taking away some of our ability to respond to calls for police or fire service or even to maintain the roads the way they are today.
As you can see from the chart to the right, this year’s budget was unusually tight for the City and we have had to make do with less than what our needs are in each department. The Police Department didn’t get a new cruiser in our fleet replacement schedule, the Fire Department will not be getting specialized equipment for confined space rescues and the Streets Department will have to scale back its plans for the road maintenance that was scheduled. Even with these cuts, the city needed to use some of its small reserve balance. These reductions may not amount to anything the public will notice this year, but over the years these needs will outpace our ability to keep up and then the problem will be obvious to everyone. Unfortunately, the reality is that the current level of service is not sustainable, despite the remarkable efforts made by those employed in public service.
During this year’s budgeting process, it became clear to me that the City has fallen behind the curve on staying abreast of the cost of providing services. In an effort to do more with less and stretch the tax dollar to the limit we are now at a point that we can only do less with less. Our equipment is wearing out and we frequently buy replacement equipment used instead of new. We have spent down the city’s reserves (savings) the past two years to maintain services and balance the budget without raising taxes. Without a lot of money in reserves or a new source of revenue, we are going to have to take a hard look at what level of municipal services we are going to maintain in the future. This is going to be a major issue that the City and its citizens must deal with over the next five years or we will begin to see City services decline sharply. Over the next few issues of the City Newsletter I will share my observations on some of the challenges, including the City’s budget process, that we are faced with. And I invite you to share any feedback that you, our reader, would be willing to provide.