Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: Thorough review of city finances in order

By From page A2 | February 16, 2014

More than a few folks in this town are beginning to wonder about the spending practices of our City Council and how we’re ever going to right our fiscal ship, especially with our beloved city manager’s admission that he’ll soon be moving out of state and out of sight.
While I’m of the mind that the good citizens of this town will more than likely be willing to vote for a sales tax increase to bail us out of our current jam, the public wallet will not remain open forever.
My friend Peter is one of those who is beginning to wonder why we’re planning a monthlong trip to Paris when we don’t have the money to fix the family car sitting in the driveway with four flat tires.
Citing a recent council meeting, Peter writes it “was another reminder of how eager” the council is “to spend other people’s money.”
He’s especially concerned about what he calls a $40,000 proposal to hire someone to tell us how to save water.
“Why do we need a city employee to tell us how to do the obvious — turn off the faucet, flush judiciously, scale back watering, replace the lawn? Does the city think we’re incapable of googling, or asking Don down at Redwood Barn for lawn advice, or the helpful people at Davis Lumber or Hibbert’s for assistance in fixing leaky plumbing?”
Not to mention the excellent op-ed appearing in this very newspaper several weeks ago that contained numerous tried-and-true, water-saving remedies.
Peter then turns to what he calls “Our $1 million municipal utility snipe hunt, of which spending $600,000 is proposed to spend on a consultant’s study.”
Indeed, I think that one caught a number of folks by surprise.
“Mere hatred of PG&E is a poor basis for an obsession with a municipal utility, and is an even worse reason to spend $600,000 of money we don’t have on a study that will cheerily overestimate benefits and underestimate costs. Exhibit A: see prior cost/benefit forecasts for public subsidies of sports arenas, marinas, convention centers, start-up incubators.
“PG&E may justifiably be on no-one’s holiday card list, but they do provide gas and electricity over vastly diverse urban, rural and remote environments with increasing reliability, engage thousands of repair people in cases of emergency, and have the economies of scale to evaluate, adopt and integrate new technologies.”
Adds Peter: “The city is incapable of fixing sidewalk trip-and-fall hazards or street potholes, and we expect a city utility to do adequate upkeep on power lines or gas lines?”
I’ll admit to never sending a Christmas greeting to PG&E, but I can tell you that in the half-dozen or so times over a great number of years that they’ve had to come to our neighborhood or to our home specifically during a power problem, they’ve been prompt, professional and proficient. I’d be very concerned that the city could respond better. In fact, I’d bet against it. In any regard, I suspect it’s a risk most of us aren’t willing to take.
“How about a thorough review of all city functions and programs? Weed out the ones that don’t provide incontrovertible benefit to citizens. That is, get rid of the ‘feel good’ and ‘aren’t we superior’ ones. Perhaps the council should take a hard look at how they’re spending our money before asking us to give more of it to them.”
True enough. 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.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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