May 26, 2014

Budget deficit is key issue in Davis City Council race

A new Davis City Council will immediately be faced with numerous issues such as budget deficits, major water projects, infrastructure backlogs and efforts to grow revenue.

A new Davis City Council will immediately be faced with numerous issues such as budget deficits, major water projects, infrastructure backlogs and efforts to grow revenue.

The city faces a $5.1 million deficit, a city manager vacancy and thorny negotiations over employees’ retirement contributions. There is a backlog of deferred road maintenance and other infrastructure projects and a massive water project underway with northern neighbor Woodland to draw water from the Sacramento River to supplement its groundwater. Five candidates are running for two seats in the June 3 election.

“There is a lot on the plate for the next council,” said Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson, who is running for re-election.

Sheila Allen cites her nearly decadelong stint as a Davis Joint Unified School District trustee during the district’s labor negotiations with its employees and the successful parcel tax campaigns as experiences that ready her for a council post.

“We worked with the community in a difficult time, and we don’t have an ongoing deficit anymore,” Allen said.

Allen said she would push for bonds to raise money. Allen also supports Measure O, the ballot measure asking voters to increase and extend by four years the city’s sales tax, to grow revenue and chip away at the shortfall.

First-time candidate Robb Davis calls himself a collaborative decision-maker whose sense of service was shaped by his nearly 30-year career in international public health. Davis has worked in West Africa and in such countries as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I’m not a political person (but) I’ve become cognizant of the challenges the city is facing,” Davis said. “I have no political aspiration beyond Davis. It begins and ends with the city, and I relish the opportunity.”

For Davis, the chief challenges are the city’s budget deficit and grappling with the costs of employee compensation.

“We have a structural deficit brought on by (employee) compensation – health care, retiree, medical – and are drivers of our deficit,” he said. The city has made substantial cuts to staffing, he said.

Now it will have to “work on more contributions from employees,” Davis said.

John Munn, who leads the Yolo County Taxpayers Association, is running to “help get our financial house in order,” and keep Davis affordable for middle-class residents and those on fixed incomes, he said.

The former Davis schools trustee and Assembly candidate said he is concerned with the rising costs of city services and water.

“The city needed help coming to terms with increasing costs,” he said. “We have to get spending under control. We have to keep Davis affordable.”

Controlling spending means negotiating with the city’s bargaining units on thorny issues such as health care and pensions, he said.

“We need to match spending to current revenue, find out where the holes are, then have a conversation with the community on their values,” Munn said. “It comes down to what we can afford.”

Daniel Parrella, a solar-power entrepreneur and political newcomer, said he wants to quicken the pace of progress in Davis.

“I’m a guy who jumps in head-first,” said Parrella, 23. “(The city) has been taking things slowly. We’ve been taking the deficit slowly. We need to take things head-on.”

Parrella is calling for a closer relationship between Davis and UC Davis to foster innovation and draw businesses to the city by using incentives.

“If both the university and city work together, it’s an advantage over any other city in Northern California,” he said.

Working to solve the city’s budget crisis tops Parrella’s priority list, but he also wants to retain and restore public trust in the city’s financial stewardship.

“There’s a good chunk of people who don’t trust the city to spend their money wisely,” he said. “We need to do a better job of explaining the budget to people.”

Swanson is running to retain the council seat she won in 2010 and to extend the momentum she said Davis has built during her four years on the council.

Swanson points to the city’s landing the global technology firm Mori Seiki during her tenure and the city’s progress on items including the joint water project with Woodland and the hiring of a chief innovation officer to draw new business and ideas to the city.

She likens the progress to “pushing a big boulder uphill – but we still need forward momentum. Another four years helps leverage the relationships we’ve built.”

Swanson said she supports “further leveraging relationships with the university” including a joint planning project with UC Davis to create an innovation district to help spur economic development and bolster revenue.

“We need to look for further efficiencies” in the budget, Swanson said. Yet, “we really have to start tackling deferred maintenance – roads, bike paths,” she said. We’re trying to win that race.”

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