Ensuring a healthy business community is key to providing municipal services to the residents of Placerville, say three City Council candidates vying for two seats.
George Lowry, Carol Anne Patton and Trisha Wilkins are making their first run for City Council. They face no incumbents in the race.
Two-term Councilman Mark Acuna is not seeking re-election. Dave Machado resigned from the council in June, days before pleading guilty to a felony and two misdemeanor charges, including voting as a councilman on a matter in which he had a financial interest.
In a city that relies on sales tax revenue for 50 percent of its general fund budget, all three candidates said the city's fiscal well-being depends on promoting existing businesses and attracting new ones.
"We live and die with sales tax, because our property tax goes to the county (fire district) for fire protection," said Patton, former owner of a clothing store on the city's Main Street.
The recession and the changing nature of the downtown business district led her to close her store in 2011, said Patton. She now works as an administrative assistant for a financial advising firm.
Patton, a former city planning commissioner, said Main Street is undergoing a metamorphosis from a traditional shopping district to a destination spot and entertainment venue, with more restaurants and art galleries. She said the Placerville Drive and Broadway districts offer opportunities for businesses requiring more square footage.
"The biggest issue is economic survival and the business climate," said Wilkins, a homemaker and mother of two children, ages 3 and 5.
Having spent most of her life in Placerville, Wilkins said, "I want to make sure its as good for my children as it was for me growing up."
The city, she said, needs hotels to encourage people to linger and take advantage of all that the town and surrounding area have to offer.
Lowry, an assistant chief of telecommunications with the California Emergency Management Agency, said more needs to be done to market the city as a destination and a stopover on the way to Lake Tahoe. He suggested, for example, providing a parking area for tour buses and offering a shuttle service to the downtown area.
Lowry believes the biggest challenge for the city is replacing aging infrastructure, including water and sewer lines, and maintaining streets.
"It's very unglamorous," he said, but it is important if the city is to avoid the kind of situation it encountered with its wastewater treatment plant, in which it had to make tens of millions of dollars in improvements or face state fines.
Wilkins said public safety is her priority. "If I see in the budget that police officers are at risk, I would look at other areas to cut."
Patton said the challenge for the City Council is to see that the city lives within its means. She opposes tax increases, including a quarter-cent sales tax increase approved by city voters in 2010 to help lower water and sewer rates.
All three candidates said they would be willing to explore a grand jury recommendation to consolidate city and county services but were skeptical that such a move would yield significant savings.
"It would be irresponsible not to at least explore it," Wilkins said.
Lowry noted that the grand jury report offered no financial analysis to support its recommendation, adding that much more foundational work would be required before he would consider such a move.
"I'm not afraid of consolidation," Patton said, noting that the city contracts with the El Dorado County Fire Protection District for services. "But there needs to be a dialogue on what are the actual costs. Negotiations become really important."