City officials working hard for fiscal solutions

By: Carol Feineman,News Messenger Editor
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Two comments I heard last week, saying that I?ve looked the other way lately on city issues, still bother me. One city official wondered if my Gold Country Media bosses told me to keep away from controversial city issues. No, the newspaper?s upper management is not telling me to lay off the city. While I take pride in The News Messenger?s watchdog role, I also like to give credit when it is due. And from what I?ve seen the last several months, City Councilmen and staff have made huge strides in balancing the budget after the public said to ?live within our means.? Considering the current economic hard times, city staff is keeping our General Fund services (police, fire, library, and parks and recreation) running with limited funds. While I?ve been critical before about the city?s financial leaders, I appreciate their efforts this fiscal year. The city of Lincoln?s auditor also agreed with that assessment at last week?s City Council meeting. ?Based on our evaluation of various factors, we?ve concluded the city can continue operation from one year of the balance sheet date,? said Ingrid Sheipline, a certified public accountant for city auditor Richardson and Company, last week. That is a major change from last year when Sheipline warned City Council that Lincoln was in a precarious operating position: ?We concluded that the city could continue to operate for the next 12 months. We need to revisit that during the next audit.? A year ago, Sheipline, Lincoln Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Anna Jatczak and Mayor Spencer Short (then a councilman) said that Lincoln needed to immediately incorporate changes on balancing its budget and not allowing overuse of reserves. With this recent audit, in which cost-saving measures were put into place last year, it?s time for at least a little self-congratulations by city staff and residents. We need to celebrate the positives While we?ve cut three police positions and three fire positions for the current fiscal year and the Carnegie Library is still closed, at least the city is looking at no employee layoffs for the new fiscal year that begins July 1. The city of Lincoln will have a General Fund budget of about $11 million this coming year. Compare that to the General Fund budget of $16 million four years ago. We have a long way to go before becoming again the services-rich city we were when Forbes called Lincoln ?the fastest-growing suburb in the country? in 2007. But at least our budget is maintaining the current amount of services we enjoy today. Unfortunately, Lincoln?s booming housing market of 2008 and before that helped fund key infrastructure and services won?t return for perhaps a decade. The national recession impacts Lincoln, just as many other cities in California now dealing with dwindling revenues and higher expenses. So I was excited ? and encouraged ? to hear Mayor Short talk about a new way to bring money and increase critical commercial development into Lincoln?s starved budget at last week?s council meeting. Roseville officials recently asked county supervisors to consider moving the Placer County Fairgrounds from Roseville to Sheridan because of its racetrack?s noise issues. But Short suggests moving the fairgrounds and its All-American Speedway racetrack, along with the Lincoln Riders Association?s rodeo and possibly Bay Meadows Horse Racing, to Lincoln east of the bypass and west of the airport. ?It?s hard when residential builds up around a race track,? Short said. ?But the airport and bypass are buffers and provide a win/win/win. It may work; it may not work, depending on all the requirements by the county, the Lincoln Riders Association, the racetrack and the city. But we?d like to be in that discussion. There?s no harm in trying.? The city would greatly benefit from the relocation. ?It would jumpstart development along the bypass and draw in commercial and industrial activities that would support the fairgrounds,? Short said. ?We?re not talking about a fairgrounds operating a weekend or two a year; we?re talking about a multi-use fairgrounds operating every weekend.? A fairgrounds offering ongoing activities and events also brings in tourism dollars at local businesses. This is not a quick budget fix. The project could take up to 10 years. ?But look how long the regional sewer took. Ten years,? Short said. ?You have to have vision in order to bring forward a viable long-term project.? (The county buying into the sewer project March 13 means Lincoln will recover $12 million for over-sizing its sewer plant and pipeline a decade ago.) City Council has a lot of preparation ahead if the fairgrounds proposal is to go before county supervisors. ?We?re sending a letter to the county, requesting Lincoln be considered in discussion of relocating the fairgrounds,? Short said. ?We?ll come back to council and discuss the pros and cons in several months. In the meantime, we?ll talk to the gun range, county, Lincoln Riders Association and horseracing facility.? Lincoln?s economic well-being depends on creative solutions. We can?t afford to just sit back and wait for the economy to pick up. We need to help the mayor in his fairgrounds proposal. Sometimes, dreaming is needed. This is one of those times we need to dream hard.