Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Taking Care of What We Have

Last summer, as I went door to door talking with voters during my campaign for Mayor, I got to hear what was on the minds of my neighbors and constituents – directly, undiluted, and for better or for worse. Every voter had a different story to tell, but most of them echoed a similar refrain – the City needs to take care of what we already have -- show that it can be managed responsibly and well – before trying to expand and grow just for the sake of being bigger.

It’s true, a larger population means greater federal and state funding. But it also means more citizens who will expect a certain level of service that even now, the City is struggling to provide. Annexing for the sake of annexing, or simply to be able to call ourselves “second-largest” is a hollow goal, if we’re not also aiming to provide the absolute best possible service to our taxpaying citizens.

Our community is still recovering from the major east-side annexation from a decade ago. The residents who were annexed were promised city services and amenities that many of them still have not received. The City owes it to our citizens – ALL of them – to take care of their roads, sidewalks, and services – to provide safe, well-lit, well-maintained public ways.

In the current budget crunch, following through on that commitment is even harder than it was in the good years. But city staff are working hard to make it happen – even as their departments are being cut and their individual workload is increasing, they are doing their absolute best to take care of the City of Vancouver's taxpayers, and to spend your money wisely. Our staff is learning how to be more efficient and do more with less, and I am proud of their efforts. It's what MUST be done. We at the city need to show you that we are getting the most out of every dollar you pay, and we need to be sure that all of our citizens, in ALL parts of the city, are being served.

In some cases, this means letting green areas by the side of the road go untended a bit longer, so those funds can be used on services that are more critical. In some cases, it means loosening restrictions on fees and permitting in order to spur private development, which will in turn create more private as well as public revenue. And in some cases, it means looking for the best deal possible and taking action as quickly as the democratic process will allow.

I'm speaking, of course, of the City’s acquisition of the former Columbian building. The building is no longer owned, even in part, by the Campbell family or the Columbian. The City was able to purchase the building from the Bank of America at a rock-bottom price of $18.5 million. Considering it cost $41 million to build, and was appraised at $29 million, the City negotiated a great purchase price. It's now owned by Bank of America, and has an asking price of $18.5 million. Not pocket change, to be sure – but an amazingly low price for the size, quality and location of the building.
At that price, and given the building's size and location, the City will be able to move all operations to that spot. And with the combination of savings that have already been put aside for this purpose, and a long-term bond, we will actually end up spending $1 million less per year than we currently spend in rent on various buildings throughout town. In a year when we've had to trim multiple millions from city spending, the opportunity to acquire a building that meets our needs and helps us save $1 million annually is one that offers the best possible investment for our citizens.
Taking care of what we have, working to manage the resources that are currently available to us, and seizing opportunities that will help move us forward. That’s what your City leadership strives to do every day, and I intend to be sure it’s what we continue to do.