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A.G. wants to go charter

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Arroyo Grande city staffers talk about going charter like it’s too good to be true, which is why some City Council members and residents are nervous.

Despite the term “charter,” the proposal that city officials are mulling has nothing to do with cable or Internet. If it’s approved by the City Council and eventually Arroyo Grande voters, the city would become the second in San Luis Obispo County—the other being SLO itself—to switch from a general law city to a charter city.

Arroyo Grande is on the fast-track of putting together a package to take to voters in November. On Jan. 24, the idea of becoming a charter city was proposed to address the city’s budget shortfall. The 2012-13 budget has a $700,000 deficit, according to a city staff report.

Getting a charter option onto the Nov. 6 ballot will cost $5,000, but if it’s approved, Arroyo Grande could shave its annual expenses by $50,000 to $200,000.

Here’s how it’s expected to work: There are two types of cities in the state. General law cities derive powers directly from the state Constitution and Legislature. Charter cities develop their own bylaws, which act as a city constitution, according to a city staff report.

As a charter city, Arroyo Grande would have more local control, according to city officials. It would also gain the ability to contract local projects to volunteers. Most significantly, the city would be able to sidestep state prevailing wage requirements on projects, so long as the project doesn’t use state money. Prevailing wage is a large factor in driving up costs, according to city officials.

On April 24, when Councilman Joe Costello asked, “What’s the downside?” City Attorney Tim Carmel responded, “Well, I honestly don’t see a lot of downside.”

But Costello and Councilwoman Caren Ray said they worried the city hadn’t fully explored the possible cons.

“We’re not even clear about what it is we’re doing here,” Ray said at the meeting.

And the city only has a few months to figure it out. According to City Manager Steve Adams, staffers will polish and refine the proposed charter language over the course of two additional public hearings on June 12 and July 12. If the final package is approved by the City Council, it will go out to a public vote in Nov. 6.

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