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A 'Fiscally Conservative' Viewpoint

Foster City Councilmember Charlie Bronitsky discusses how it's hard to be 'fiscally conservative' when it means saying No to funding nice things for the City.

 

The term “fiscal conservative” is currently a popular one among politicians.

It suggests to people that the person supports making the government live within its means and advocates raising taxes only when absolutely necessary.

I believe these are laudable qualities.

When being fiscally conservative consists of “cutting the low-hanging fruit” - in other words, cutting programs that few are using and that can be readily replaced, or jumping on the bandwagon of popular causes such as pension reform - it is very easy to be fiscally conservative.

However, it is when being fiscally conservative is difficult that the rubber meets the road.

I equate being truly fiscally conservative to being ethical even when no one is looking. Leaders, especially those who espouse the doctrine of being fiscally conservative, are most needed when the decisions are the most difficult.

Right now in Foster City, we are facing those decisions and how we respond may significantly affect the type of city we end up with.

When I first started on the Council back in December of 2009, the City was showing a reserve in excess of $20 million with only a $30 million or so general funds budget. Quite strong, it appeared.

However, when I started to campaign, the projected deficit was $2 million for the coming year, and by the time I sat down to look at my first budget as a councilmember, the deficit was already $5 million - again, just for that one year.

We have cut our spending over the past years, but for the coming fiscal year the projected reserve as of fiscal year-end is down to $13.3 million. Thus, we have spent nearly one-third of our reserves since the beginning of 2010.

We also have unfunded pension liabilities in the amount of about $21 million and we are in negotiations to sell the last two significant remaining parcels of City-owned property.

We will also have an ongoing deficit projected to be in excess of $1.3 million for next year, and without more changes, $1.6 million per year thereafter.

Given all this, I would think that we should loathe creating any new liabilities until we come up with a way to generate new revenues to sustain what we already have on our plate. I would also hope that we would do that in a way that, if possible, does not raise taxes.

However, on June 18, a budget will be presented to the City Council in which we will be taking on at least $100,000 of new liabilities. I, for one, am strongly opposed to that.

The 2012-2013 budget will include $50,000 to build a wall to allow people to buy a plaque to honor a veteran. I agree that honoring veterans is something we should do, no doubt. However, that is why it is so tough to say No and to be a fiscal conservative even when saying no to spending money is hard.

Another $50,000 will be budgeted to explore what to do with Werder Pier and Destination Park. Both of these parcels have been in existence since long before there was a Foster City, yet a vote will be taken on June 18 and I believe it is likely that a majority of the Council will approve spending that $50,000 now.

This is also something I strongly disagree with, but again, being fiscally conservative is hard when it means being against new parks.

I could go on and on, but I think I have made my point - the money we are spending is your money. If you want us to spend it, then so be it.

If you don’t, then I suggest you come to the Council meeting on June 18 at 6:30 p.m. and have your say.

If you cannot make it to the meeting, e-mail the Council. Our emails are our first initial, last name @fostercity.org. For this year, it’s your last chance.

These are my thoughts. I hope you will share your thoughts with me by e-mail at cbronitsky@fostercity.org or call me at 650-286-3504.

 

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