Politics & Government

Atascadero's budget is a key issue for City Council candidates

Tom O'Malley
Tom O'Malley The Tribune

With Atascadero’s future Walmart project snarled in litigation, the Atascadero City Council will be faced with the looming question of how to overcome the city's dwindling financial reserves after the November election.

This and other issues will be taken up by whomever fills the three contested seats on the council: the two-year mayoral position and two four-year council seats.

Mayor Bob Kelley is running for City Council against incumbent councilwoman Roberta Fonzi and business manager Ann Ketcherside.

This will be the first year Atascadero has an elected mayor, for which mid-term Councilman Tom O'Malley is running unopposed. His empty seat will have to be filled by the new council.

When Kelley was appointed as mayor this year, he told the council and public he would not run for mayor in November since it would give him an unfair advantage as the incumbent.

All the candidates hope to build to an economically stable city that is more business-friendly but each brings a slightly different approach.

Despite their views on the local economy, all will have to face continued budget shortfalls.

Atascadero has been using some reserves to cover budget gaps since at least fiscal year 2008 and doesn’t expect to stop until fiscal year 2014, when the city hopes Walmart will open, bringing in new tax dollars.

The candidates

Fonzi, 59 and nearly a lifetime resident of Atascadero, said she’s looking to “retain the unique character and historical heritage of the city I love.”

She would also continue to focus on public safety and road maintenance.

Currently a real estate agent, Fonzi brings more than a decade of city planning experience from her 10 years on the Atascadero Planning Commission and four years on the City Council, including one of those years as mayor.

Ketcherside could not be reached for comment, but she previously told The Tribune that her experience in property management gives her an edge on bringing new business to town. Her biographical information wasn’t immediately available.

Kelley, 67, has worked to make the city business-friendly by cutting back on application paperwork in the planning and building department.

The real estate broker said he helped make the city’s 11-page business license application shorter so licenses can be “issued over the counter or in a very short period of time,” he said. He believes that more businesses will be encouraged to come to Atascadero if the process is easier.

Kelley has lived in San Luis Obispo County for 37 years and served on the city’s Planning Commission for seven years prior to his time on the City Council. He also has a background in law enforcement.

While Walmart is caught up in litigation, the future of needed roadwork around the projects is also up in the air. The city has a potential plan to borrow from sewer funds to cover some of those roadwork costs — a decision the next City Council could face in the coming years.

The city didn’t have any write-in candidates filed for a seat by Wednesday, but those interested still have time to do so through Oct. 23.

In reserve

The city’s projected general fund reserves in its current budget are about

$4.6 million

, which is predicted to fall to about

$2.7 million

in fiscal year 2014.