By STEVEN TAVARESWhat started as an avenue for citizens to help the city make tough budget decisions is morphing into the realm of the political. The San Leandro City Council unanimously approved Monday night the creation of a 13-member Ad Hoc Citizens' Budget Task Force hoping to provide the city guidance in prioritizing services and programs for the next year.
The committee, which begins work with an educational session Nov. 12 and concludes in January, will be preceded by a $75,000 informational mailing and consulting campaign on the need to raise revenue in the city. Some councilmembers criticized the politicizing of the issue before the committee even makes a single recommendation. Councilwoman Diana Souza said it was like "putting the chicken before the egg" while Councilman Bill Stephens questioned the city's intentions with the campaign.
"Sounds to me what we're trying to do is move an agenda forward and then also have an ad hoc committee that will support that agenda," he said. "It think we have it backwards."
The committee creation hopes to stay clear of vociferous outrage residents conveyed towards the mayor and council over cuts this year to services including crossing guards and access to the city's recreational facilities. Mayoral candidate and former School Trustee Stephen Cassidy first suggested giving more voices input into the budget process, which some economist worry, despite recent news of the economy dipping out of a recession, the economy may worsen before getting better. Cassidy has recently blogged about City Manager Stephen Hollister's $75,000 "contingency fund" for the informational campaign and wondered why money was not available for other services, such as school crossing guards.
"You want to hire outside consultants and spend $75,000 to convince the community you're watching every nickel and dime and being spendthrift as possible," said Cassidy. "It's going to backfire on you. You should be conducting community forums, you should be getting out there yourselves. You shouldn't be relying on third party consultants to be communicating with the public directly."
Hollister says the campaign will be educational and would not advocate a specific revenue measure. He estimated mailers delivered across the city would cost $40,000 with the rest going to consultants. Observers say drumming up support for much-needed revenue enhancements is similar to the strategy the city of Newark is conducting to pass Measure L, a 3.9 percent utility tax initiative, voters will decide today.
Here is the 13-member Ad Hoc Citizens' Budget Task Force named Monday night: Tom Dlugosh (Chamber of Commerce), Johanne Dictor (Bill Stephens), Vic Entrikin (Diana Souza), Mike Fitzgerald (HOA Rep), Patrick Grajeda (SLCEA), Surlene Grant (Ursula Reed), Edras Gustin (Tony Santos), Benny Lee (Joyce Starosciak), Bob Leigh (HOA Rep), Tom Overton (SLMO), Dale Reed (Michael Gregory), Kathy Sanchez (Jim Prola), Mike Sobek (POA).
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