05/22/2010 Gilbert Town Council Special Meeting Summary

Thanks to Sarah Crawford, Mickie Niland, and Cory Carpenter for attending this meeting and assisting in compiling the following Summary.
This was the first Gilbert Town Council Meeting following the defeat of Prop 406, the quarter-cent sales tax increase which was supposed to be “dedicated to Public Safety.” Without this tax, four Town Council members (Linda Abbott, Dave Crozier, Les Presmyk, and John Sentz) and the Unions assured Gilbert citizens that “Gilbert is faced with the reality of having to dramatically cut the level of service in public safety.” These same Council members also asserted that “significant reductions in other less critical services” had already been made.
Did any of the dramatic cuts to public safety occur at this meeting? No.
Why? Because, as those of us who opposed 406 have stated many times, if Public Safety is the Number One Priority, then fund it first, not last. We also stated, “The money is there!” Thus, on 5/22/2010, the Town Council came to a consensus that Public Safety should be funded first, that the $1 million they cut from the Fire Dept. on June 2, 2009 should be returned, that public safety staffing should be restored to appropriate levels. They did not authorize any lay-offs or furloughs. Plus, the 3% salary reduction volunteered by employees was not approved.
The Gilbert Town Council found the money to accomplish these actions. They looked very carefully at various unrestricted, reserved funds and found enough to carry them through this Fiscal Year to meet the anticipated $6 million deficit.
Are we out of the woods? No. The recession continues. Gilbert’s population continues to grow. Gilbert families haven’t recovered, and as long as we don’t recover, the Town of Gilbert’s revenues won’t either. When Gilbert families are suffering from 25-50% salary cuts and lost jobs, it is simply wrong to burden them further with a tax increase. The Town’s spending levels, like a Gilbert family’s spending levels, need to decrease to match their revenues.
At the beginning of this meeting, the Council discussed the budget in anticipation of the projected $6 million deficit for FY2010-11. Each Council member was given a few minutes to speak about his/her priorities and concerns. Council Member Jenn Daniels stressed that there was a record number of citizens who voted on 5/18/2010, and it was obvious that all of them were concerned that Public Safety be the First Priority. Jenn also stated that all other services should be prioritized after Public Safety. She further advised that the Council should also be prepared for the next big boom.
Les Presmyk commented that the model of efficiency that many of us have used as an example that Gilbert should follow, San Diego County, recently announced cuts in programs and in personnel. For background, this municipality was on the brink of bankruptcy in the late 1990s. They borrowed organizational efficiency techniques from the private sector and began instituting them, turning San Diego into one of the best run counties in the country, with a AAA credit rating and $700 million in reserves. They became the best run municipality in all of California. Those techniques are very similar to the ones that Jeff Niland of the Citizens Budget Committee has been using for 30 years to help private companies save millions of dollars.
Recently, San Diego County has experienced a budget deficit, after 10 years of surpluses and no cuts in services and personnel. Now, they are looking at lay-offs. Les Presmyk pointed this out. Is San Diego having problems because the efficiency technology they implemented failed them? No. They are in trouble because they overextended themselves and overspent with the savings from efficiency technology. Now that revenues are continuing down, they need to spend less and that means cuts. Efficiency techniques will not save you from an ever declining economy. They will, however, put you in a much better position than your neighbors who don’t use such methods.
San Diego is primarily making cuts to social welfare programs, substance abuse programs, trail development, park hours, etc. With a budget of $4.86 billion, they will have 50 lay-offs, which is much better than the rest of California. State revenues and property taxes continue to decline.
These facts are not an indictment of efficiency methodology. San Diego is simply not immune to the need to make spending cuts when revenues decline.
Gilbert has yet to give a nod to efficiency methodology expert Jeff Niland, who, out of a sense of civic duty, has offered to help the Town for one year free of charge. He first made the offer in January 2010. I doubt the offer will go on indefinitely.
Many Council Members reiterated the need to “look at efficiencies.” This statement has been made by Council members repeatedly for the past year. When are they going to do it? Why the inertia?
It seems that the first step would be to identify the inefficiencies and the duplication of effort, conflicting requirements, and the roadblocks to homeowners and businesses. Then, streamline processes, remove the roadblocks.
Wouldn’t a business be more likely to locate in Gilbert if their dealings with the Town were hassle-free, professional, and consistently efficient?
Ben Cooper spoke of the importance of planning 3-4 years ahead. He also wants an emphasis on economic development and the General Plan.
As each Council member spoke, there seemed to be much agreement about priorities overall, and those were identified as: Public Safety First, Retain Personnel (no lay-offs or furloughs), Restore Public Safety Overtime, Restore Fire Dept’s $1 million cut, Need for Comprehensive Strategic plan (both short and long term), Identify Surplus Funds and use them, Address decline in Public Safety since 2007, find New Sources of Revenue, No Reduction of Utilities or Streets Funds (as Les Presmyk stated, “it doesn’t do you any good to have a 4-minute response time if you are slowed down by potholes in the roads.”), Maintain Service, Identify a Plan to Replace Funds used to Fix Deficit, No Hidden Taxes, Assessments, Rates (keep fees out in the open), Don’t use Funds that Encumber Property Owners, Prioritize Capital Projects to Minimize General Fund impact.
It was gratifying to see that the Council appeared to put Public Safety first. Dave Crozier cautioned there should not be a blank check. All departments should be held accountable.
What the Council members did NOT talk about were places to cut back on spending in non-essential areas. They should go back to those Citizen Budget Committee ideas for places to cut, and look at them seriously, now that they know the sales tax increase failed.
When politicians use the phrase, “Identify revenue sources,” they generally are looking for tax dollars. Hopefully, that isn’t their intention. The Council should bring forth ideas for other ways to increase revenues: 1) Turn a Cost Center into a Profit Center. In 2003 it was an identified 5-year goal for the Riparian Institute to develop a self-sustaining organization and facility through partnerships, sponsors, volunteerism and other sources to allow for continued operation and future growth. As of this writing, the Riparian Institute, a truly unique, heavily visited environment, continues to cost the taxpayer $334,000 per year to operate. 2) Apply the principle, “Whoever Benefits the Most, Pays the Most.” Look at the “free” services or nearly free (“free” means it is subsidized by the Gilbert taxpayers) and charge those who benefit the most for that service. 3) Could a service that is currently provided by the Town be more efficiently provided by the private sector?
These categories could result in increased revenue.
We as citizens must remain vigilant and watch the Council’s actions to ensure they are are consistent with their words.