Updates on liquor regs, the 2016 budget, and the Rec Center feasibility study

It’s been a busy fall for the Fircrest City Council, so here are updates on several items of popular interest:

LIQUOR: Voters will decide on Nov. 3 whether to lift the prohibition on serving liquor-by-the-glass in the central business districts. The Planning Commission, a volunteer panel of citizens, has developed draft zoning regulations for the City Council’s consideration if/when voters approve the measure. The City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the matter for Nov. 24 at 7 p.m.

BUDGET: After five public meetings in October, we are still on track to adopt the 2016 budget on Nov. 10. As I’ve previously reported, the $22 million budget is in excellent shape, with all bills covered, healthy reserves, plenty of available cash flow, and enough left over to manage some capital needs. There’s a list of final decisions to be made at that meeting. I have put two items on that list for consideration by the full Council:

  • Police: I’ve been working with city staff and the mayor to identify whether we have enough sustainable funding to restore a position in the Police Department that was cut as the Great Recession hit (several years before I joined the Council). We currently have nine officers providing 24/7 protection. Chief John Cheesman has shown me how much more coverage he can provide if that position is restored, and we both believe that will cut down on vehicle prowls and other property crimes. There appears to be enough funding available in the 2016 budget, but we don’t want to add it unless we’re sure we can carry it forward for years to come. That’s why I worked with the chief last week on a Plan B: If we’re not confident there’s enough funding to restore a permanent position yet, I will propose using that available 2016 funding for emphasis patrols (paying our current staff overtime to provide more coverage). We actually use very little overtime, so we believe the officers will appreciate the opportunity to earn extra income.
  • Fircrest Fun Days: A citizen committee has been meeting to figure out ways to give a boost to Fun Days, the annual weekend festival in August that has seen declining interest by vendors. The city only spent $7,500 on this year’s festival. I’m proposing a boost – up to an additional $2,500, depending on other decisions made in the budget – so the city can consider adding more activities and show vendors and sponsors that we’re committed to maintaining a quality event.
  • Other items to be determined include the purchase of a new street sweeper (our current sweeper is getting harder and harder to repair because it’s no longer made and we can’t locate parts), and purchasing two new police cars, among other things.

POOL/REC CENTER: Last year, we adopted a Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) plan, which contained a wish list of every improvement that a committee of citizens could think of for our parks over the next 20 years. It doesn’t mean we’ll do all of those things, but we aren’t eligible for grants unless we have such a plan, which you can find here. The plan also recommended hiring an expert to evaluate the condition of the pool and the Roy H. Murphy Recreation Center, and to offer options for improvements. The city is in the final stages of negotiating a contract with a highly regarded consultant, and the process will include public hearings to find out what you think. That’ll happen in the coming months, so stay tuned for more information soon.

Why my opponent is wrong about the city budget (which is in excellent condition)

Despite her criticisms and mockery of my public service, Heather Heiderich has so far indicated opposition to only 1 vote out of hundreds I’ve taken in nearly four years on the Fircrest City Council. And that was the $23.4 million budget for 2015, which the Council voted 5-1 to approve last December.

Heather keeps making variations of this false claim:

“…when Hunter claims he balanced the budget this year, keep in mind it was balanced in an unsustainable fashion utilizing a one-time revenue bonus from the Wainwright Intermediate School construction project on Alameda Ave. This is not sustainable, and leaves the problem to be tackled later in the next budget…”

She’s wrong. And here’s proof: That “next budget” – the proposed 2016 budget that we expect to adopt in early November – is already in the black. Without Wainwright project revenues.

In fact, some of our funds have such healthy reserves that I’ve voted with the other members of the Fircrest Investment Committee to invest some of the balances in municipal bonds that earn in the neighborhood of 1.4 percent interest. That doesn’t sound like much at first, but it’s nearly 10 times the 0.16 percent interest paid by the state-run Local Government Investment Pool. (By law, those are the only options for investing municipal funds.) Those investments are generating tens of thousands of dollars in interest, which goes right back into city programs and services.

Moreover, we used some of those one-time Wainwright permit revenues this year to replace a police car that was experiencing too many mechanical problems to justify spending more money on it. And we’ve got $3.5 million in what’s officially known as Cumulative Reserve but might be better known as the rainy day fund.

So it’s silly to claim that we adopted an unsustainable budget last year when it turns out we will have funds left over at the end of the year (even after buying that police car), and next year’s proposed budget is perfectly sound.

The truth is we are always conservative when estimating incoming revenues. No one I’ve asked can recall a time in recent years when we had to make mid-year cuts to the budget because revenues weren’t matching expenditures. That conservative approach is a key reason why Fircrest’s budget is in better shape than other municipal budgets in the area.

Heather’s false claims make me wonder if she’s even read our budget. When I first signed up to run for the Council four years ago, I attended several Council meetings and made an appointment with the city manager so I could come in and get a copy of the budget and other policies and learn more about the organization. We have yet to see Heather at City Hall since she filed for office in May.

Heather claims her experience of starting – and closing – two “successful” businesses makes her better qualified to manage the city’s finances. But she refuses to provide any relevant context, such as the size of payroll (especially non-family payroll), revenues, expenditures, capital planning, etc.

How can voters judge her qualifications to manage their money based on vague claims about the successful marijuana candy business she closed?

Your seven-member City Council has gone through the proposed $22.1 million 2016 budget page by page during five public meetings over the past month. (Note: it’s $1.3 million less than last year because the sewer projects are nearly complete.) This is my fourth budget cycle with the city. We scrutinize every department and we ask a lot of questions of staff to make sure that every request is justified.

We are on track to vote on the budget Nov. 10. Feel free to contact councilmembers and/or attend that meeting. It’s your money, and we’re working hard to stretch every dollar as far as it will go.

October 25 update: Heather keeps writing long posts that don’t actually say anything. Her response to this piece about the budget makes false threats that we’ll have to cut the budget because of unsustainable spending. She again fails to acknowledge that the 2016 budget is already balanced without Wainwright money, so obviously we didn’t overspend in 2015.

And regarding her criticism that $3.5 million in Cumulative Reserve isn’t enough: She still doesn’t understand our city budget. Those aren’t the only undesignated funds. I only used the very healthy Cumulative Reserve as an example.

Where we’ve been, and where we’re going

League of Women Voters asks about economic development, open government, building consensus, and more

The League of Women Voters has an extraordinary history — forming in 1920 as advocates were making the final push to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, finally giving women the right to vote. The nonpartisan League has been providing valuable information to voters ever since.

My opponent Heather and I both filled out the League’s candidate questionnaire. It’s a generic one designed for all cities, but it still shows some big differences between us.

League of Women Voters logo

League of Women Voters

Once again, Heather offers happy thoughts but no actual plans. She also takes a couple of strange, ill-informed shots at me. The League’s candidate guide is available at www.vote411.org. You have to drill in by street address, which is handy because you can see our answers side-by-side. I plugged in the address for City Hall and provide the link here. Or, here’s a link to Heather’s answers, and mine are pasted below.

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