By John Earl
Surf City Voice
This is the second of a series of questions posed by the Surf City Voice to all of the announced candidates. The question this time is about infrastructure and more specifically a proposed revision to Section 617 of the Huntington Beach City Charter that the city council recently voted to place on the November ballot.
The Surf City Voice tries to put challenging questions before the candidates in the hope that both the questions and the candidates’ answers will shed more light on important city issues and increase the voters’ chance to know who and what they will be voting for.
Political candidates often avoid challenging questions in their attempt to control the flow of information and limit their risks from public exposure. But we thank those candidates who took the time to consider the question and disclose their views to the voters.
The background to the question, the exact question asked of each of the candidates and their exact answers follow.
Readers are encouraged to leave their own comments or questions at the end of the questionnaire.
Proposed changes to Section 617 of the Huntington Beach City Charter:
The city Charter Review Commission recommended changes to Section 617 of the city charter. On June 7 the city council voted to place those proposed changes on the November ballot. For the purposes of this question, the main issue is:
A) That, if approved by voters, the revised Section 617 of the City Charter will prohibit the inclusion of debt service or “any other indirect costs” within the 15 percent section of the city budget that must be used ONLY for infrastructure, starting with the 2017/2018 city budget.
B) In other words, the city can pay for debt servicing out of the remaining 85 percent of the city budget, but of the 15 percent of budget set aside for infrastructure costs no money can be used to service debt for infrastructure or other financing.
During the June 7 city council meeting, City Administrator Fred Wilson was asked if public safety would have to be cut from the city budget if the 617 revisions (noted above) went into effect.
“Barring any major windfalls of revenue, the reality is we will have to cut services and with public safety consuming 51 percent of our budget, we have to make cuts across all department lines, including public safety. So, the short answer is, yes, there will be impacts on services and there will likely be impacts on public safety. That’s the bottom line, I think. To what degree, we don’t know. Also, when you look at our 5-year financial forecast, we’re projecting growth rates of about 2 percent or so in revenues, but we’re likely to see the equivalent amount in expenditures. We’re not going to see any easy way to fund this mandate.”
The following conversation also took place between city council members:
Keith Bohr: “How are you going to pay for it, if they’re going to stand on their own?”
Joe Carchio (candidate for reelection): “You increase the fees [at the Sports Center, for example].”
Bohr: …That’s going to cover it?
Carchio: Well, I don’t know if it’s going to cover it or not.
Bohr: Come on!
Carchio: Maybe we need to extend the debt a little bit longer.
Devin Dwyer: Pension reform is not going to be an alternative. Pension reform is going to be a lifeline. We’ve all seen what’s going on in Greece. We are no longer going to be able to hire police officers, firemen, anybody that can retire at 50 years with 90 to 98 percent of their wage. We can’t continue to do that. That is where the savings is going to be. All new hirees (sic) are going to have to be on a second tier, period. And that’s that best way for us to secure those that have the benefits now, that are, you know, golden benefits. The only way we can secure them is by changing the benefits of the future.
The Question for Candidates:
A) Do you support the proposed change, noted above, to City Charter Section 617?How can the city afford to take care of dire infrastructure needs, especially in a depressed economy and with limited funds without the ability to include debt service payments in the 15 percent allotment, up front (rather than taking it out of the remaining 85 percent of the general fund), thus ensuring the ability to finance infrastructure that might otherwise be too expensive, thus also ensuring cash available to fund other vital necessities, including public safety?
For the purpose of this question, an appropriate analogy would be a new home buyer who must finance his/her home and include loan payments up front in order do in order to purchase an otherwise unaffordable home and still send his/her kids to school, buy them clothes, put food on the table and buy health insurance for the family.
B) If Surf City really is on the brink of economic disaster, as council member Dwyer suggested with his comparison to Greece, why wait until 2017/2018 to do something about it? Shouldn’t we start getting our house in order right now? Is the delay really a matter of fiscal prudence for the benefit of taxpayers or is it merely political prudence for the current charter revisionists, who will have gone on to other political pursuits, far beyond the reach of their former constituents by that time?
C) Any other comments?
Bruce J. Brandt
A) Yes, I support 617 revision/clarification ; among other reasons it is what the voters intended in 2002 voter approval.
B) Including debt service in the 15% reduces direct dollars left to spend on a yearly basis. Paying debt from the 85% of remaining general fund provides more money for the Infrastructure work in current years. We need to discourage going into debt by financing infrastructure with loans and bonds, but rather pay as you go.
C) Waiting til 2017/2018 seems a little long, but at same time gives the NO proponents a good reason to switch to YES, as it is more than sufficient time to plan where to cut expenses to offset this. The answer of how to cut expenses should not always target city services, but look to reducing city expense by outsourcing items if we can save or trimming overhead in administration etc. Actually the City Council should set up a schedule with yearly milestones defining an implementation plan to get to the 2017 full implementation (ie not wait til 2017 to meet the rest).
D) This is all about what’s right; follow voters approved desires; Our infrastructure is a city liability if it presents potential for accidents , so we need to be safety minded about dangerous conditions. www.brandthbcitycouncil2010.com email@example.com
A. Yes, I do support this clarifying measure. I actually served on the Huntington Beach Infrastructure Committee and I believe the original intent of our recommendations to the City in 2002 was to have the infrastructure repaired, brought up to date and create reserves. It was never the intent to have the city’s debt service included in our calculations.
B. The current measure will not become effective until 2017/2018 which will give us time to adjust our budget priorities in the appropriate manner. As a City Councilmember, I will work closely with my fellow colleagues and city staff to transitition our budget appropriately from now until it takes effect in 2017/2018.
C. As a resident of Huntington Beach and as a City Councilmember I believe it is always prudent to have your financial house in order. As a member of the Council I am confident that we will able make the difficult decisions that will needed to be made so our city will come out ahead at the other end as our economy slowly improves.
I support adding the additional language to Section 617 of the Charter which
clarifies the original intent to provide funds for our infrastructure.
C) As Albert Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” We need to elect new leaders who put residents’ needs above their own political agendas. We need to get our financial house in order. We must look for new revenues, cost savings, and eliminate waste in order to pay off our debts without cutting important services like Public Safety. Heathergrow.com and my email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
John Von Holle
A) Yes, I would agree. Why: Having 36 years of firsthand knowledge dealing with the city’s infrastructure needs, I agree that we need to start planning for the inevitable failure with certain parts it, in the not too distant future. But you have to understand, we are talking about 20 million dollars!
B) The truth is: The city is in that unenviable position where you are damned if you do, damned if you do not. Current projected revenue shortfalls notwithstanding, the city cannot ignore putting off establishing a saving’s fund mechanism either through the City Charter Review Commission with passage of this ballot initiative, or the annual budget, if we are to deal with the inevitabilities that await our structural underpinnings. I would like to see this happen using seven percent to start in 2017, then adding one percent each year, up through 2024/25.
I have stated time and time again, the city needs a complete review of, and if called for, the restructuring of every aspect of city business, to include programs and service fees and costs, not just with the restructuring of departments, as is presently underway by the city administration. There are recoverable savings that can be realized in many areas; however, some of those changes have not been welcome in the past. And still yet, there are areas in the city that could bring in more revenue; but again, the city has chosen to forego ideation in this area. This needs to be re-addressed. Clearly, time and effort will have to be expended in addressing this–and similar issues. The new city council will have its work cut out.
C) If the City of Huntington Beach is on the brink of economic disaster, as Councilman Dwyer has stated, the last thing we need to do is push it over the edge, now. Waiting until 2017 to begin seeding a saving’s fund to meet the cost of fixing future breakages to our infrastructure, while prudent, is nevertheless risky; but it will give the city seven years to grow and to change, to restructure and to eliminate old programs, and to devise and implement new revenue generating ideas. Make no mistake; the next seven years are going to be difficult years for the city to maneuver through as it attends to the business of keeping the city solvent in all areas.
D) It is questions such as these why I believe the city has four year terms for its council members: it brings new people with new ideas onboard with different ways to think a problem through. I, for one, think outside of the box. It has served me well during my career in DPW. I believe the city could benefit from opening up communication with its citizens. The answers city hall is searching for today may just lie down the road, waiting to come forward, waiting for that knock that bids welcome, but seldom if ever hear. I believe working together as a whole, our city will not only survive, but thrive and prosper. www.vonholle4hbcc.net email@example.com
I support the change to section 617 of the city charter. Reading the original section from the existing charter seems to denote that debt service should not be included in the 15% calculation. The amendment seems to clarify what the intent of the original section was. While I recognize that putting strict guidelines on funding in a volatile financial situation can make it difficult to create a balanced budget, infrastructure and public safety are really the two major services that the city should be providing.
The general fund estimate for FY 2010/2011 is going to be $178million, thus 15% is $26million. This would be the required funding for infrastructure. What is debt service going to be on this? For the sake of argument let’s say 8%; one is looking at $2million annually (taking a higher interest rate in order to account for principal and interest instead of figuring amortization). Thus the city has to find about 1% of the total general fund to finance this debt. We took a 1% cut across the budget this year and the city is estimating a 2% growth in revenue over the next 5 years according to statements made by the City Administrator. I believe this, combined with pension reform will more than account for increased money required to service the debt. This debt was something I believe was not meant to be included in the original calculation to begin with.
The city should begin to integrate this estimated debt service now. As a compromise, why not bring 20% a year in until 2017/2018 when we would reach no debt service from the 15%? We have a huge backlog of projects that need to be funded. Tree removal (of which only 2 streets are budgeted 2010/2011, down from 24 in 2008/2009) to sewer line relining to actually finishing the 8th field at the sports complex are just some of the infrastructure needs that need to be addressed immediately. The financial situation in the city is not as terrible as other cities (Bell), but we must make prudent decisions about how to maintain the high quality of life in Huntington Beach. www.dankalmick.com 714-699-4DAN firstname.lastname@example.org
A ) I completely support the 617 Amendment.
B ) For too many years our infrastructure has been underfunded and over looked. It has no special interest groups to advocate for it. Cracked sidewalks, pot-holed roads, and dangerous standing water are the standard in many of our neighborhoods. It is time to get our budget working for the residents and fix these problems.
We need to support the 617 Charter Amendment – A minimum 15% of our general fund needs to be programmed for repairs every year. This is small percentage is only half of what should be spent – but it is a start.
As a current Public Works Commissioner, I know the current challenges we face and I will bring that experience to the City Council. We cannot turn our back on this problem any longer.
The city can help improve the budget shortfalls by helping stimulate the economy. Too many of our resident’s tax dollars are being spent in neighboring cities. Work with and positively encourage small business owners to update the run down strip malls on Beach and Edinger for starters. Not only is this area the gate way to our great city but give the residents more choices to spend their tax dollars within our city limits, not Costa Mesa, not Westminster, not Fountain Valley. If we reduced some of the red tape bureaucracy at City Hall then perhaps businesses would not roll up the carpet and leave but stay and improve their store fronts, expand manufacturing and bring in some much needed tax dollars. Make Huntington Beach more business friendly don’t run them out of town.
C- I believe by making tough choices at City Hall we can salvage and rebound from the current economic crisis. We have to start somewhere to begin to fix our infrastructure needs. The result will benefit all residents and businesses that drive the economic engine of Huntington Beach. It is far more cost effective and efficient to prevent rather than react.
The 2017/2018 start date gives the city plenty of time to get its budget priorities in order and executed. As the Executive Director of a non-profit I understand the tough choices that must be made to keep a large organization afloat. I’ve been facing budget shortfalls and making such tough choices. Our infrastructure is treated like an orphan child and neglect must stop now.
The following candidates did not respond:
Erik H. Peterson
Shawn R. Roselius