Thursday, March 5, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

City panel working to tighten scrutiny of taxpayer dollars

By
From page A11 | August 31, 2014 |

By Jeff Miller and Dan Carson

Last February, Davis Enterprise columnist Bob Dunning mused on the city’s serious fiscal problems and controversies, and suggested a solution. “Maybe it’s time to convene a citizen-based Budget Advisory Commission to turn over every rock looking for spare change that could get us out of this mess,” he opined in a column titled, “Thorough Review of City Finances In Order.”

Maybe he was unaware of the long-standing existence of the city Finance and Budget Commission.  Or maybe he was just offering a playful critique of our work. Either way, he raised a legitimate concern that this city needed a more active and engaged city commission to help find budget solutions and to caution against unwise expenditure of taxpayer funds.

As, respectively, the chair and vice chair of that commission, we wanted to alert you and Davis citizens to our recent efforts — taken in coordination with the Davis City Council and city staff — to energize our commission, better define and organize our activities, and provide more comprehensive and careful scrutiny of city finances.

We have a lot of work to do to improve our effectiveness and relevance, but our six commissioners have been trying hard to represent the concerns of Davis taxpayers and citizens who want their dollars used frugally and effectively. Many Davis residents don’t have the time to delve into the details of city finances every quarter, but want the assurance that an independent party is reviewing the details.

After soul-searching discussions with the council and city management about the role of our commission, including a joint public workshop, we adopted a resolution in May (subject, as always, to discussion with the City Council) creating a system of commission subcommittees, and assigned specific tasks to each.

Because of our belief that the key to building citizen trust in government is accountability and transparency in city finances, the first subcommittee we created will focus on accomplishing those goals. Specifically, our resolution directed this first panel to draft a new and updated mission statement for the commission to submit to the City Council for its consideration.

It also directed this same subcommittee to work to foster the development of a new city accounting system that would make it easier to understand how the city is spending its limited resources. We believe an improved accounting system could allow city staff to produce the budget and related documents at less time and expense and give Davis policymakers and average citizens the tools they need to analyze city spending and revenue trends and identify potential budget solutions.

We also want to analyze key components of city finances in a systematic way over time — areas such as employee pensions and health benefits, major departments such as police and fire, and so on — to better predict what must be budgeted for these purposes and to develop new budget solutions.

For this reason, we created a second subcommittee that intends to develop and initiate a process for a zero-based or similar review of selected city expenditure areas. The main idea is to go beyond a review of the most recent marginal changes in city programs that are proposed each year in the budget process to gain a more in-depth understanding of core city programs and how they might be reformed or constrained.

This city stands at a crossroads in deciding how best to tackle the backlog of deferred maintenance and infrastructure needed to continue the effective delivery of public services to city residents. Accordingly, we created a third subcommittee that has been directed to examine the projects for these purposes identified by city staff and to review and to comment upon a plan that we anticipate city staff will develop to address and finance higher-priority projects.

We stand ready to work with city management, the City Council and the other relevant city commissions who oversee infrastructure systems in ensuring that the city takes a fiscally prudent approach to this complex undertaking.

As we complete some of these tasks, there are additional projects we plan to undertake. Some council members have encouraged us to help model the potential costs and benefits to the city of various pending economic development proposals, such as the innovation business parks, the Nishi Gateway project, and the new convention center and hotel complex.

We also look forward to examining ways to use available assets to enhance the city’s fiscal situation, such as through the sale or lease of city property or the operation of concessions or franchises with private-sector partners.

We are already moving from discussions of commission process to action. We peppered city staff with a lot of questions about the justification of city expenditures and other budget assumptions during the 2014-15 budget process. Prior to the adoption of that budget plan, we reviewed and successfully advocated for City Council adoption of $1.2 million in additional budget cuts proposed by the city manager to help erase a $5 million structural budget shortfall.

In July, we asked city staff to prepare a multi-year accounting of the outcome and status of more than $80 million in capital outlay projects that were proposed by city staff and approved by the City Council in recent years because that detail is not included in the annual budget report.

We recognize that our authority as a commission is limited. We are an advisory body, not a decision-maker. We are dependent in many cases on the availability of limited staff resources to get answers to complex questions. Nevertheless, we are hopeful that our new subcommittee structure will provide us the flexibility and decision-making structure to give the citizens of Davis the greater scrutiny of the use of their tax dollars that they deserve.

Please help us succeed in our work. We welcome public comments at our meetings, usually held the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. in the conference room in the back of the Community Chambers. We are next scheduled to meet on Sept. 8.

— Jeff Miller became chair of the Finance and Budget Commission this year and has served on the panel since 2009. Dan Carson was appointed to the commission in January and is now vice chairman.

Comments

comments

Special to The Enterprise

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Hibbert Lumber honored as an Owl Wise Leader

    By Felicia Alvarez | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Mother pleads not guilty to lesser charges in baby’s death

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    ‘The Liar’ will have audiences in stitches

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Boots help dogs deal with cold

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    High court hears Obamacare arguments

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Bob Dunning: Is there a fair way out of this?

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

    Speaker will illuminate universe’s dark side

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Fiesta dinner, auction benefit Chávez School

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    World Language Fair brings nations to Davis

    By Krystal Lau | From Page: A3

    Get crackin’ for Yolo Crisis Nursery

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Taizé service set Friday at DCC

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Climate Lobby will meet March 11

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Be featured in Woodland’s water-wise landscape tour

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    UFC speaker series gives ‘A Winemaker’s Journey’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Divorce options covered in Saturday workshop

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Author events coming up at The Avid Reader

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    Community forum with police will address hate in Davis

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    .

    Forum

    No real reason to stay

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Hunting has many benefits

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    This river needs our help

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Vernal pools are in danger

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Migratory waterfowl threatened

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Dog in shopping cart concerning

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Drought stresses California’s trees

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

    Initiative carnival coming next year

    By Tom Elias | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Sports

    DHS boys track team has high aspirations

    By Dylan Lee | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Blue Devil boys mash Marauders

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Devils’ big inning is the difference in baseball opener

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    DHS golfers dominate Elk Grove

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Davis softball offense explodes for first win

    By Chris Saur | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    San Antonio enjoys home cooking to rout Sacramento

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

    Youth roundup: U15 Knights rout El Dorado Hills

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    Youth soccer: Barker lights it up for Blue Thunder

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

    Sports briefs: DHS swimmers speed past Herd

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8

     
    .

    Features

    DHS sophomore honored for volunteerism

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A5

     
    .

    Arts

    Wealth of Nations plays Saturday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

     
    ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ to be screened Sunday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

     
    Hear EZ Street Saturday at winery

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

     
    UC Davis bands perform on March 11

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A7

    Athens Guitar Duo to perform at Davis Arts Center

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
     
    Resler releases memoir, ‘The Last Protégée’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8

    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Thursday, March 5, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B6