Stop our slide into municipal bankruptcy

By Michael Bisch

Whether Davis’ slide into bankruptcy is impossible to stop or prevent is debatable. What’s indisputable is that the city is rapidly headed toward fiscal insolvency in the absence of a significant course correction.

In the June election, Davis voters have an opportunity to weigh in to prevent our fiscal demise. No, I’m not talking about Measure O, the proposed half-cent sales increase. Best-case scenario, Measure O is only a Band-Aid to address the projected $5.1 million structural budget deficit.

Indeed, the budget deficit the city has been projecting significantly understates the true state of the fiscal emergency. The deficit is far greater when one includes the annual maintenance expense on critical infrastructure and valuable amenities that the city inexplicably fails to fully disclose in the budget.
How can the voters in June weigh in to prevent our fiscal demise? They can do so by casting two informed votes in the City Council election. The 2014-16 council will be making decisions in two critical areas shortly after its members are sworn into office that will determine whether the city may yet avert municipal bankruptcy.
The first critical area is a decision on the permanent replacement for departing City Manager Steve Pinkerton. The person at the helm of the city’s affairs must have a firm understanding of our community, proven leadership and problem-solving skills, innovative thinking, a command of public relations and the will to practice transparent governance.

The city’s ability to avert bankruptcy in the absence of such a leader is exceedingly difficult to imagine. It is imperative that the new City Council get this decision right.
The second critical area is a series of forthcoming decisions regarding tax measures, cost containment and increased revenue from economic development projects and policies. Davis simply does not generate sufficient revenue to meet our expenses. Indeed, we fall far short.

This next City Council will either have to dramatically cut expenses, dramatically increase revenue or engage in a combination of the two. And it needs to get on it right away. There simply is no time for delay. The city’s cash reserves are projected to be entirely depleted in this next fiscal year. Meanwhile, the cost to address deferred infrastructure maintenance expense is skyrocketing with each passing month.
The first in a series of City Council candidate forums takes place Wednesday evening, providing Davis voters an opportunity to judge for ourselves which two candidates have the attributes and the knowledge necessary to make these critical decisions on behalf of the community.

The forum will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Community Chambers at City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd. It is free and open to the public. I look forward to seeing you there.

— Michael Bisch is a Davis resident and a commercial property broker.

Special to The Enterprise

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