City staff explores economic development plans

Staff at the city of Susanville is preparing multiple approaches for the city’s near-future budget deficits. In response to these circumstances, staff put together an economic development presentation, essentially creating the first phase of a potential roadmap to the city’s future.

Including the giant looming monster that is the city’s future portion of CalPERS unfunded liabilities, the city is looking at an “economic crisis,” and is evaluating other potential hazards in the way of success.

City administrator Mike Wilson shared at the Sept. 18 city council meeting that the circumstances surrounding the CalPERS payments means, “three years from now, CalPERS is ultimately going to take a big chunk of our money — our budget, our general fund.”

There was also the issue of deferred maintenance.

“We have to look at the realities: Our equipment is old, a lot of our buildings are old, a lot of our infrastructure … is old. It causes us to have to do more work. That costs money.”

Wilson shared that some of the deferred maintenance issues surrounded the city’s main office at 66 N. Lassen St., where the city council holds all of its meetings. Wilson shared that almost everyone’s office at the building had buckets on desks to catch dripping water. Even the downstairs’ city chambers had evident water damage.

Wilson noted there often is more than one route to get to the desired destination. However, Wilson said that it’s impossible to map out a route if you don’t know where you’re starting.

Those at the city, including its councilmembers, are preparing to approach this issue and make some difficult decisions.

There are a variety of options to choose from or combine to make the selection the city desires. Not one option would be sufficient for making a significant impact in the future deficit.

Wilson shared those options with the council.

One of the options they shared was a “cut and freeze” plan for staff. The staff proposed both single year and multi-year cuts and freezes.

The city could declare an emergency, stemming from the economic crisis, meaning the city may approach those who have MOUs with the city to alter them.

Other options of cuts included exploring options to power down the main office on certain days of the week, dividing up or selling property, including the golf course, as well as furloughs or layoffs. However all of the options would only provide minimal dents into the rising budget deficit.

Another possibility for the cut and freeze option included the hiring of temporary employees, providing contract services, or even running an ambulance service through the city.

Wilson also shared a development in the works, “Both of our chiefs have been working very closely and trying to negotiate some terms with (the Susanville Indian Rancheria) to provide coverage for law enforcement and for fire on the entire area of SIR, including the upper area.”

Also under the potential plans for a cut and freeze includes increasing the share of healthcare insurance costs or CalPERS benefits onto its employees.

The city’s staff has already decided to cut their janitorial services. Even though city staff will be cleaning their own toilets, they will save taxpayers $5,970 for police janitorial and $7,800 for administration janitorial per year.

The second option, which is already in play, is the introduction of the city’s proposed 1-percent sales tax measure, for which a public hearing was just held by the council Oct. 2 for the March 3 election.

The 1-percent tax measure would add to rather than supplement the funds available for the city’s already strapped public safety departments.

The third option includes investments into economic development. In fact, Wilson announced a whole team who will be dedicated to the city’s economic development.

Heidi Whitlock, the current assistant to the city administrator, will now serve as the chief of the economic development department at the City of Susanville.

Whitlock will work alongside both the city’s current Program Manager, Quincy McCourt and the city’s building official, who will serve as the economic development team.

The team will work on creating an Economic Development Implementation Plan, what McCourt called “a living document” to align the work of economic development and to tailor public and private partnerships.

The council decided it would be best to hold a quarterly roadmap on Dec. 18 to show where the city is with its developments at that time.

Mayor Kevin Stafford alone called for immediate cuts to be made adding that department heads needed to come together to figure out where layoffs could be made.