A plan for Atascadero’s future

June 19, 2013 

America’s political environment makes it difficult for citizens to have confidence in those responsible for governing, particularly in the area of money. Whether considering the increasing national debt or our state’s controversial high-speed rail project, people have little trust that their tax dollars are used wisely.

California cities have been particularly burdened in recent years with increasing state regulations and the demise of redevelopment as the state balanced its budget on the back of its cities. So it might be surprising that I am optimistic about Atascadero’s budget and future prospects. That’s because our budget is not merely numbers, but what those numbers reflect: a city that pulls together, makes prudent financial decisions, and lives the principle of shared sacrifice.

Atascadero recognizes that the city’s money is the people’s money, and we take stewardship of it very seriously. We put together our budget like you would your own, providing essential services and planning for the future. Working people have long understood the concept of “rainy day” funds, and are frustrated that government is unable — or unwilling — to do this most fundamental task.

That was certainly the picture of Atascadero in the mid-1990s, but through sound fiscal stewardship, our city currently has a fund balance of more than $7.5 million (of which $5.5 million is currently available) to maintain its existing service levels during the economic challenges ahead. While the budget conservatively expects that Atascadero will dip into reserves over the next four fiscal years to keep up with services, we anticipate at the end of those four years that the fund balance will be almost $4.9 million.

To boot, the city has $6.1 million available to fund vehicle and technology replacement as well as building maintenance. Times are tough, but forward-looking preparation has given us the ability to weather the economic adversity.

As chair of the Finance Committee, I am impressed to see the citywide effort that goes into the budget process. Spearheaded by Administrative Services Director Rachelle Rickard, every department has input, and responsibility, for the ultimate budget. The sweat equity of every city employee is invested in this document, and they persistently strive to help the city continue its cost-saving measures and identify ways to be more efficient.

I am also overwhelmed at the community support of Atascadero’s citizens and service groups who band together to provide benefits to the city that could not otherwise be afforded. It is the people of Atascadero, both inside and outside of City Hall, who make possible my optimism.

While we see signs of economic recovery, it is choppy, and the benefits of recovery flow somewhat slowly to the city. The budget is a well-thoughtout, conservative plan that will keep Atascadero financially healthy and well-positioned to provide for the needs of the future. The city’s draft budget was presented at the June 11 City Council meeting and was passed 5-0 by the council. I thank those citizens who were present at the council meeting and the Finance Committee meetings for being involved in this process of financial stewardship.

Heather Moreno was appointed to the Atascadero City Council in 2012.

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