It is unfortunate that the New Times article, “Heading for the cliff” (Sept. 30) confused the facts and came to unwarranted conclusions. In particular, the idea that the city could become insolvent is unfounded and was illustrated using misleading examples. For instance, the utility box art program was paid for with money collected for public art that cannot be used for anything else, not the General Fund as implied in the article. The double-decker replaces two buses and was funded by a federal grant (again no General Fund money was used). As it happens, the users love this bus, ridership is up early in the school year, and students are not getting left behind as they have been in the past on our busiest routes. The New Times article also got it wrong on an important point about employee raises. In fact, in recognition of the difficult financial times, city employees gave up almost $1 million in pay increases as of July 2009.
Times are tough, but the city is in a strong position to continue to provide the essential services that our community desires. Since the start of the 2009-11 Financial Plan, the city has reduced expenditures by about $14 million in recognition of lower-than-expected revenues. During this time, the city’s workforce has been reduced by 26.8 full-time equivalent positions through attrition. Yet we have continued to make major progress on key priorities identified for Measure Y (the 1/2-cent sales tax). Plus the city has steadfastly maintained prudent savings (a minimum of 20 percent of operating expenses) that have been used to avoid more severe reductions in service.
Most importantly, the community of San Luis Obispo will have many opportunities to help the city achieve long-term fiscal stability as we work together on the city’s two-year budget for 2011-13. I look forward to expanding on these ideas in a future edition of New Times. Until then, I want to encourage members of the public to attend the City Council meeting on Oct. 19 to learn more about our financial future as the city’s 5-Year Fiscal Forecast will be presented. Please stay involved in the process as we chart a course towards financial sustainability and adoption of our next budget.