As a new councilmember, one of the first tasks we undertook as a group was the formulation of our policy regarding the Budget. Fortunately our Council has had extensive experience in the budgetary process culled from service in other areas of business and non-profit governance. The process was thorough and we were well informed by the City Manager and Departments head regarding each and every line item. The process involved a variety of study sessions, which was culminated with a public hearing before the Council’s consideration and approval of the final budget.
As a Councilmember I believe it is our duty to craft policy that will meet the expectations of our residents. This is no easy task, but I believe that each Councilmember acts in accordance with this as the foundation of their decision making process. The challenge is obvious, we as a Council must discern and identify what the expectations are and if in fact we as a City can meet or exceed them. One expectation that seems to resonate with the Council and our residents is the Foster City “Quality of Life”.
There is no doubt that quality of life has different meanings for different individuals. However, there are certain aspects of it that are present in almost everyone’s definition. Our residents value safety, police, fire, and maintenance of our infrastructure. We pride ourselves on a healthy reserve and the ability to maintain our infrastructure through prudent planning and a capital improvement project fund. This quality of life comes at a cost and that cost exceeds our current ability to meet it with our current revenue projections.
Nearly 80% of our Budget is salaries. These are the salaries of the City staff that provides the aforementioned quality of life we all revere. The reality is that we must raise additional revenue or continue to cut additional services (salaries) if we are to achieve a balanced budget.
During the budget review process, we as a Council sharpen our pencils and asked the hard questions of what and how we were going to get closer to our end-goal. We then each had to define what the City wanted as opposed to what the City needed. Each councilmember attempted to meet this challenge and fought hard to present their point of view and desired outcome. I was humbled by the passion and depth of commitment each brought to the process. Moreover each studied the budget and asked the hard questions.
While I cannot speak for my colleagues, I can say that I am satisfied and proud of the final product. I could speak to each line items I felt should have been cut or increased but I shall not. That is part of the process. Each of us places a different value on different aspect of our budget and services. This is a good thing. It provides diversity and a balance of view-points that I find indispensible in the development of policy initiatives. My colleagues differing views illuminated different aspect of the process for me and help me refine my understanding our collective end-goal.
As a City, we have a healthy reserve that allows us some short-term flexibility in tough times. We have had to utilize these funds to balance our budget. While this cannot be our long-term strategy or solution for our budget woes, it is refreshing to know that we can maintain our City and staff that provide our current quality of life. These funds helped maintain our crossing guards and other line items that insure the safety of our community.
I am excited that we were able to continue to provide the services and resources our residents expect and depend upon. In the future, we will have to discern the difference between wants and needs of our community. There is no doubt that we need to drive additional revenues if we are to continue the current level of services to our community. I look forward to the roll out of our new sustainability initiatives that will help our City grow and continue to prosper so that we can have the revenue streams that fuel our economic engine.