Reducing costs while maintaining the level of service residents expect will be a major challenge for Folsom City Council members in the next four years, say candidates vying for the office.
"The biggest issue is there's tons of waste," said Roger Gaylord. "No one is grabbing the budget by the handle."
Gaylord, a security consultant, is taking on incumbents Ernie Sheldon and Jeff Starsky in the race for two seats on the council. Sheldon, a retired Air Force officer, is seeking a second term, and Starsky, an attorney, is running for a fourth term.
Gaylord said he objects to giving car allowances to management employees with six-figure salaries when the city is raising utility rates and imposing fees for Fire Department responses to rescue and emergency medical calls. The council, he said, should focus on funding core services.
"I'm a big fan of the zoo," he said, "but I don't think it should be in the budget." Gaylord suggested the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary might be better operated by a nonprofit organization.
Sheldon said the council has made strides during the last four years by negotiating increased employee contributions to health benefit and pension plans. He seeks a second term, he said, because more needs to be done.
"We have a compensation problem," Sheldon said, stating that 44 percent of the city's employees earn more than $100,000. "That doesn't say these people aren't worthy, but we don't have (the money)."
Sheldon wants to start ratcheting down payroll costs by creating a second tier of compensation for new employees. The city has cut costs through layoffs, he said, but it can't continue to balance the budget by reducing workforce.
Starsky anticipates another tough 18 months as the city works to avoid further layoffs and any decrease in services to residents. But he is optimistic. "I'm seeing a lot of recovery in the private sector," he said.
His goal in the next four years, Starsky said, is to recruit more businesses "to recession-proof the city so we can survive the next one without quite so much anguish."
Starsky said he would seek a greater diversity of businesses by recruiting industries such as medical equipment manufacturing.
Gaylord and Sheldon said they favor smart growth.
Gaylord criticized the current council for focusing on new, upscale commercial developments such as the Palladio while ignoring vacancies in older commercial areas. He said he would question moves to develop 3,500 acres south of Highway 50 that were annexed to the city earlier this year.
"I know there is concern about whether we're healthy enough to be expanding out there," Gaylord said.
Starsky said new businesses are locating throughout the city, but he doesn't expect commercial development to begin south of Highway 50 for at least five years, and then it will be market driven.
Sheldon said the city has been hit hard by the loss of redevelopment funds. He supports projects such as restaurants and condominiums planned as part of redevelopment efforts in the city's historic district. But right now, he said, the city doesn't have the money to help those projects move forward.
Sheldon voted with fellow council members to rescind a requirement that developers of large residential projects set aside a percentage of their market-rate homes for buyers with limited incomes, and to instead rely on voluntary initiatives and incentives to provide affordable housing.
But Sheldon said he also agrees with the Sacramento Housing Alliance which successfully sued to block the action that the city "put the cart before the horse." While appealing the judge's decision, Sheldon said, the council is also doing what it should have done first: revising the housing element of the general plan to show how the city would seek to meet affordable housing targets without the inclusionary housing provision.
Gaylord said housing for all income levels should be provided throughout the city, rather than low-income housing in certain areas.
Starsky said he expects residential projects to go forward in the city's historic district through a public-private partnership. But the state will have to come up with tax incentives or some other alternative to redevelopment funds if affordable housing goals are to be met, he said.
Gaylord accused current council members of not doing enough to involve the community in the decision-making process. He suggested using social media such as Twitter to allow people who can't attend council meetings to follow and weigh in on discussions during the meetings.
Starsky defended the council's efforts to keep residents informed, citing the the city's website and newsletter, but said he is open to new ideas.