March 7, 2006 > Editorial: Wanted - Fiscal Restraint
Editorial: Wanted - Fiscal Restraint
In a mid-year budget review on February 21, Fremont City Manager Fred Diaz spoke of stabilizing the budget by continuing the severe city service cuts put in place over the last four years. He noted, "I do not think we can afford to restore any services we have cut in recent years, therefore I am recommending that all budget and service cuts remain in place for fiscal year '06 - '07." Diaz went on to say that maintenance of current service levels "is only the case because of the aggressive budget cuts we have taken to bring costs in line with lower revenues from our restructured economy."
A clarion call for more revenue was again raised citing the need for increased safety services and repairs to roads and other infrastructure needs. This renewed bid for a tax might be palatable if there is equally clear evidence of trustworthy use of existing funds. So far, the record is as mixed as the economic signals of Silicon Valley. Although there are signs of restraint, other signals are troubling. For instance, the costs to replace the Candle Lighters Pavilion at Central Park surfaced again, this time with a significant cost overrun. Explained as unexpected developments, the money appropriated is nowhere near the amount necessary for completion of this project. Staff will be forced to come back for more money soon and it will be interesting to hear the explanation and watch the council's response.
At the next meeting of the city council, it will also be interesting to listen to what has happened to the Washington Avenue and Paseo Padre Parkway grade separation project. Is this still on track or will it, too, be subject to massive cost overruns? Another development to watch will be the Centerville Market Place. No public news at this time, but sources close to the project insist it is on track. The proof will be later this year as the redevelopment agency and developer move toward transfer of land ownership.
In the midst of fiscal uncertainty, timing is poor for adding more employees, especially with a high price tag attached. However, the city website is offering a newly created Deputy City Manager position for a base salary of $148,000 to $185,000 along with a host of wonderful benefits including a "Health Benefit Allowance" of $1,048 per month, Annual leave that accrues at the rate of 128 hours (think 40 hours per week) and an additional 104 hours of non-accruable leave. Arguments can always be made for the need of additional funds, but when the budget calls for fiscal restraint, all requests for additional funds should be viewed with some skepticism.
The real test of fiscal responsibility will come as more money becomes available to the city. At this point, reserve funds are subject to scrutiny since fattening those coffers while crying poor is not acceptable. If city finances are beginning to stabilize, the big test will be how well new monies are used and if the promise of austerity is kept. Which services will be restored first and how well has the council listened to their constituents since the ill-conceived Proposition V? It is still a question of trust and respect in both directions. Until that is achieved, hiring practices and cost overruns that do not bear close scrutiny are not acceptable.