Interim Davis City Manager Gene Rogers, left, chats with outgoing City Manager Steve Pinkerton at a city of Davis environmental awards reception on April 22 at City Hall. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Local News

Interim city manager is skilled at dealing with fiscal crisis

By From page A1 | May 09, 2014

Davis’ new interim city manager, Gene Rogers, has an extensive résumé that runs a gamut of fiscal crisis and different flavors of local governments.

From Moreno Valley in Southern California to the Monterey County Resources Management Agency to the city of Coachella, Rogers has weathered his fair share of local government challenges.

“There’s nothing fun about going through budget cuts and there’s nothing fun about going through tax elections,” he said, but that is just what Rogers has done through much of his tenure as a government manager.

When he was hired, the city touted Rogers’ experience, and for good reason, owing to the fact that Davis faces its own fiscal challenge.

Even if Measure O, the city’s proposed half-percent sales tax measure, passes in June, Rogers said Davis will not have solved its current budget problems — although “the severity of the problem will be diminished considerably in the short term,” he said in an email.

Regardless of whether the measure passes, there are $1.1 million in additional cuts planned for next fiscal year and a general fund deficit approaching about $1 million for that budget.

That’s due in part, Rogers said, “because the sales taxes would not be collected until the second quarter of next fiscal year, thus dropping the general fund reserves … to roughly $4 million by the end of next fiscal year and, assuming no additional cuts, it is projected that the structural deficit will continue into the fiscal years beyond.”

Roads are another problem.

Rogers said a recent study of the city’s roads and bicycle paths showed the average condition of each was considered fair, “which means that the average road is at risk of failure,” Rogers said.

The study recommended a program to “shore up the condition of the roads and bike paths to prevent further deterioration,” Rogers said. Doing this before the roads fall too far down in condition makes it far less expensive to fix the pavement in the long term.

Rogers said although the City Council more than doubled the money set aside for the maintenance program this fiscal year, and the same allocation is projected in the next budget, the amount falls far short of bringing the streets and paths back to what the city calls the “desired level of service.”

As bad as all that sounds, Rogers has seen it worse.

In Moreno Valley in the early 1990s, the Inland Empire housing boom had just gone bust. For the city of more than 120,000 residents at the time — it has nearly 200,000 now — and Rogers, who rose from assistant city manager to city manager, this presented a special challenge.

According to an Oct. 28, 1996, article in the Los Angeles Times, Moreno Valley had been a boomtown riding a high of developer fees as subdivision after subdivision was built after the city incorporated in 1984. Yet when recession hit in the early 1990s and developers held back, Rogers said the fuel that kept the city running fell short. That hit Moreno Valley hard.

To be clear, Rogers said the city had an idea the party was over.

“We saw the trend coming, so we dealt with it in 1990,” he said.

The solution: a 6 percent utility users tax, a common form of local government tax levied on everything from telephones to water to electricity.

Far from the wild fluctuations of developer impact fees, the tax offered the city a more steady source of income, but Moreno Valley still had to shrink its development services department due to lack of demand.

The city ended up eliminating roughly 100 positions, Rogers said. He’s not sure of the exact number, but he is dead sure how many of those positions were filled by employees who were laid off: 55.

A 1995 court decision meant the voters would have to ratify the tax they had been paying, so the Moreno Valley City Council placed it on the ballot in 1996. After a flurry of campaigning, the tax failed. But according to the Los Angeles Times, only 17 percent of the city voters cast a ballot on the matter.

Without the tax, there were a few budget scenarios that showed the city could have faced bankruptcy, according to the Times.

But Rogers said a group of citizens concerned about city finances pushed the tax as an initiative. That time, it barely won. Anti -tax forces tried to repeal it in subsequent years, but by then support for the tax had gained strength.

Rogers retired from Moreno Valley in 2006, just before the most recent financial crisis. This time, too, he knew the good times couldn’t last.

“By putting in place policies related to development,” he said “… we had taken some steps to ensure the bust wasn’t as steep.”

After Moreno Valley, Rogers worked for a nonprofit, and then got into hiring himself out as an interim city manager. The city of Coachella, a community of 45,000 people in the Palms Springs area, was one agency that took him up on his offer in 2009.

Coachella was not as affluent as Moreno Valley, Rogers said. According to state records, Coachella is part of the Coachella Valley Enterprise Zone Authority, formed to stimulate business in depressed areas.

Here again, Rogers found himself with a city facing a deficit and city that was considering a 5 percent utility users tax to help right itself.

According to local TV station KESQ, unemployment was 23.1 percent.

A first tax measure fell short at the polls in 2009, but the next year the city led a successful effort to pass the tax and generate an estimated $1.1 million annually for city coffers.

Rogers said without the tax, the city would have been bankrupt within three years.

Talking in his new office at Davis City Hall, barely eight days into his tenure as another interim city manager while Davis seeks a permanent leader, Rogers is mindful of what kind of reputation might precede him.

“I don’t know if I want my whole career defined by taxes,” he said, but he also signed up for a job that, at least on its face, will have history repeating itself for him again.

— Reach Dave Ryan at [email protected] or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews

Dave Ryan

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