Friday, May 29, 2009

How to Make Cuts in Tough Times but Strengthen Core Services

These economic times are requiring all of us, whether in our homes or businesses, to make tough decisions and prioritize where we are spending our money. Governments and elected officials should be able to apply these same principles to spending the public's money, but it happens all too rarely. It's easy to raise taxes, grow programs and employees, and build 'fiefdoms' when times are good. But when tax revenues are reduced, adjustments downward simply don't happen as rapidly and with the same fervor as the growth.

I look to the Evergreen School District as a great example of prioritizing in the face of a significant budget shortfall.

It's my understanding from conversations with Superintendent John Deeder that he and the School Board have made $11 million in cuts and reductions --- but NOT ONE CENT has been cut from certified teaching staff. In other words, Deeder and the Board have prioritized the students and the classroom over all other offerings in the School District. They have trimmed $3.75 million in the administrative offices (administrative support staff) and trimmed some $1.5 million in employee costs as a result of the employees sacrificing compensation and benefits increases. Workforce reductions are never easy. But Evergreen's choices reflect a commitment to keeping their priorities front and center.

For the City of Vancouver in this recent supplemental budget, and even with the biennial budget adopted last December, there was limited trimming in administrative support. However, core services were put on the chopping block (or frozen) both times.

The Mayor at the time should have insisted that the City Manager look at opportunities to further trim costs from city administration. There is no doubt these cuts would be painful, but the trimming would be in proportion to the dozens of employees already laid off. In other words, fewer employees requires less administrative support.

As Mayor, I would have insisted that the City Manager look to further INCREASE the contracting of private, outside support for specific activities like professional design services and parking management. With a 'hungry' private sector, the City would no doubt receive highly competitive pricing for services for city contracts, as has been demonstrated with construction project bidding.

If the City contracted more with private industry, the following would occur:
1) Those most efficient and capable of providing services would be doing so;
2) Fewer 'overhead' City employees on the payroll would save costs -- some 70% of City costs are the employees;
3) Those capable City employees would be hired by private firms to help with the new and increased City contracts and join the private sector; and
4) A makeshift 'stimulus package' would be created, providing more opportunities for business and employers (who, remember, generate the tax dollars that go to the City) to grow and expand.

Instead, the City Manager proposed to contract LESS with private companies to further save city employee jobs. A noble but impractical proposal if we are to focus on maintaining and/or improving necessary core services.

As Mayor, I would insist that the City Manager look into efforts by the City's Parking Advisory Commission to save the City some $800,000 year in program modifications. A member of the advisory board took it upon himself to investigate opportunities to save the taxpayers of Vancouver money by streamlining and improving the parking program. After obtaining proposals from private companies to manage the parking structures (and the enforcement), he showed that the City would save significant monies.

That $800,000 in savings would allow for the hiring of 8 neighborhood police officers to be proactive in addressing property crime, identity theft and drug houses in our community. Or, $800,000 would allow for the hiring of 10 more city operations staff to allow for more response to our deteriorating roads.

Unfortunately, suggestions like these have fallen on deaf ears at City Hall. It's tough to get an entrenched politician to put energy into 'reforms' that will better prioritize our tax dollars.

These are a few examples of the 'out-of-the box' approaches I will fight for as Mayor, in order to prioritize safety in our neighborhoods, after school programs for our children, and mediation services to keep small disputes from clogging our court system.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Leavitt Opposes Cuts to Police, Roads and Teen Programs

On Monday, May 18th, the Vancouver City Council held a public hearing on a Supplemental Budget proposed by the City Manager.

Citing lower than estimated tax revenues, the City Manager proposed a budget that included freezing the hiring of more police officers, eliminating a neighborhood traffic safety program, and reducing after school programs for our city's teenagers. This after an increase in citizens' utility taxes.

Leavitt opposed the proposed budget, noting that the cuts did not align with his expectation or vision for the direction the community should be going. "Given our current situation, the City must prioritize core services. The safety of our citizens from criminal activity and the integrity of our neighborhoods are important to me. Police and neighborhood traffic safety programs are core programs that the City must be bolstering, not cutting. I cannot support a budget that doesn't prioritize our neighborhoods and our safety first."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Campaign Doorbelling is Underway!

I began walking the neighborhoods of our fine city today, visiting with neighbors at their doorsteps.

Couldn't have asked for better weather on this holiday weekend to say hello and chat about the upcoming mayoral election and LISTEN to what issues are pressing on the minds of those who love Vancouver.

This Memorial Day weekend, we remember and honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the future of our country.

Many of the conversations I had about the future of Vancouver were similarly respectful of what has been accomplished in the city's past. Throughout these conversations, though, there was a recurring theme -- support for a fresh perspective, new thinking and a new attitude to begin the next chapter here in Vancouver.

Doorbelling is truly my favorite part of campaigning. I had a number of pleasant discussions, including one with Janet about the future of public transit in Vancouver. Janet is a regular rider of C-TRAN, using it to get to her job in Portland. Because I have worked on the C-TRAN Board for the past five years, and chaired the Board for two years (2006-08), we were able to have a detailed conversation about how I am fighting to ensure bus service in our community is economical, efficient and easily accessed. The more riders on C-TRAN, the fewer automobiles on our clogged roads! Thank you Janet for your support of my campaign for Mayor and for your advocacy of C-TRAN!

Visiting with you is, in my opinion, the ONLY way a Mayor can truly understand what is on the minds of the citizens. For me, it's about listening to you, putting careful thought to the issue, then making an informed decision for the betterment of Vancouver.

I will be knocking on as many doors throughout our city as humanly possible throughout the campaign, and look forward to seeing you soon! And, if you'd like to volunteer with the campaign, I'd love your help canvassing your neighborhood. Let me know if you'd like to come out with me when we visit your neighborhood!