May 23, 2006 > Editorial: Fine print
Editorial: Fine print
A common saying is that the "devil is in the details" and this is no more evident than when looking over budgets. Large corporations are masters at publishing shiny, impressive books that relate company activities in glowing terms or at least mediate any negative news. This verbiage all comes at the beginning of the document, leaving the dull, but telling information in tables that people need a week of insomnia to comprehend. However, there are a few who persevere and for those, information about the true inner workings of an organization surface.
While some would subscribe - and be correct in some cases - attempts to gloss over irregularities as the goal of using these methods, usually large print is simply an attempt to bridge the gap between no knowledge and at least a basic, overall understanding of operations without getting caught in details. City budgets are also interesting and revealing documents, but again, presentations to the public and city councils may be simplified in order to expedite understanding. A recent presentation to the Fremont City Council consisted of 23 slides including graphs and large print while the document is actually 105 pages. Sprinkled throughout the text of this budget are phrases that indicate a change in economic climate typically balanced by qualifiers and exposure of the true message:
"Although the economy has apparently stabilized for the moment, there are not projected to be sufficient resources in the future to fund more than current, inadequate levels of service. Only with significant new revenue will the City be able to provide the high-quality public safety, infrastructure maintenance, and other services that Fremont residents expect."
Statements such as this, while staff is supposedly fact-finding with a citizen committee about what solutions lie in the future, are as attorneys would say, calling for a conclusion before all the facts and possibilities are explored. A close look at revenues shows they are increasing with a concomitant reduced dependence on the Budget Uncertainty Reserve. Looking at the net change after using $1.4M of that reserve in 06-07, the total of the Contingency Reserve, Program Investment Reserve and the Budget Uncertainty Reserve is reduced by just $100,000. The Contingency Reserve has actually grown by $1.1M and Program Investment Reserve by $.2M.
We are shown impressive figures of expenditures for safety - usually a top fear factor for residents - and it is intimated that without additional resources crime will overwhelm the city and lengthened fire response times wreak havoc. However, when the thought of a special safety tax with a sunset provision was previously aired, city councilmembers shunned this for a 'good ol' general tax citing an easier voting margin to clear for passage. A general tax keeps the money within the discretion of the council and free to loot for other needs. A sunset clause means that receipt of such monies would have to be justified if it extended beyond a certain timeframe.
The last time the council tried to convince the electorate of the need for a tax, numbers were fluid and, in some discussions, it was thought that the need for a tax would decline with economic recovery. What we are faced with is a situation similar to oil prices. When speculators are able to manipulate fears, the prices skyrocket and pump costs are quick to follow. If fears ease, oil prices decline but pump prices are slow to follow. The ultimate solution is to find new ways of creating energy. The same can be said of our local government. The real solution is to see if there is anything new under the hood before pumping more gas into the tank.
This week, the redevelopment agency takes its turn to outline a budget. This group has been looking for a winning project with several candidates in progress. Development of Monument Center in Irvington has been reinstated and at least a portion of the Niles Alley issue is included. Redevelopment still needs to show that its word is good through solid development of the Centerville Unified Site.
The Disposition and Development Agreement laid out specific requirements for the deal to move on. Although "mixed use" includes residential units, Charter Properties is required to show signed leases for "upscale" restaurants, other "food oriented" and "specialty uses" with a small amount of space allotted to photographic or financial services with an ATM. This project is the showcase for the redevelopment agency and needs to be a successful retail development. Without a strong showing in Centerville, confidence in this agency is misplaced. If retail is sacrificed for the housing component, Fremont's Redevelopment Agency has not lived up to its promise.
It is noteworthy that the Fiscal Year 2006/07 Budget includes in its projections, "the Industrial Project Area is estimated to reach its $400,000,000 cap on tax increment collection during FY 2011/12." That is approximately five years from now. This "Plan Amendment" with a projected cost of $550,000 is looking for an "extension to allow raising Industrial Redevelopment Project Area T1 revenue cap." While the primary goal of the Redevelopment Agency was stated as regional transportation efficiency and these projects are at least in the planning phase, maybe it is time to evaluate the cost of non-housing and non-transportation developments under this agency. Is it time to begin planning the dismantling of redevelopment?