Yes Mr. City Manager, Not Only Can You Do Better, You Must Do Better

by lewwaters

Reviewing a recent correspondence emailed out to city employees by City Manager Eric Holmes is an eye opener, at least for me. I’m not too sure about Mr. Holmes, Mayor Leavitt and City Council though. Then again, I am just a common sense blue collar sort of guy that has always had to live within his means and keep his checkbook balanced.

While running a multi-million dollar city is undoubtedly a difficult and challenging prospect for any one overflowing with complicated matters, someone needs to open their eyes and realize Vancouver is in trouble, big trouble.

Mr. Holmes begins his letter, a copy of which is HERE, with the usual, “I’d like to take a moment to thank you, for your hard work, your expertise and your commitment to community. Together, we make a difference. Serving the greater good is why we are here. You are the City’s most important resource and we appreciate your partnership in the journey ahead, navigating a sea of change.”

Deeper in his letter though, we find, “About 70 cents out of every dollar we spend goes toward our workforce. Our relationship with employees is a key to our long term success, in more ways than one. Wages and benefits have grown significantly faster than revenue and contribute to our current unsustainable business model. We are negotiating with all twelve unions, representing roughly 70% of our employee base. We’re also continuing to make changes to stabilize the costs of health care benefits. Aligning employee costs with our ability to pay remains a top priority- and is a cornerstone to a more solid foundation for all of us. Our goal is to preserve jobs, especially since we’ve already made significant cuts.”

Just before that he acknowledged, “In 2009, the City’s financial condition deteriorated amidst the Great Recession. Revenue growth, historically bolstered by development growth, had plummeted. Growth in expenditures – primarily in health care, wages and benefits – did not decline accordingly.”

70 cents of every dollar is for city employees, revenues have decreased significantly, due to continuing high unemployment in private sector jobs and there is something to “negotiate?”

We hear almost every day politicians crying about “shared sacrifice” and “fair share” and other such catch phrases. With double digit unemployment in the private sector for a good 2 years now, I’d say we have paid more than our fair share and sacrificed much.

So far, the reductions in services and layoffs have amounted to some 20% of the city workforce, calls for citizen volunteers, closing a fire station and cutting the budget.

Good starts, but still not equivalent to what the private sector has faced since this elongated economic downturn began in 2007.

While much is said about the cities “current unsustainable business model,” in my estimation so unsustainable that if the city were a bank, regulators would have taken over the city and shut it down long ago, we see the city making priorities out of projects they say are needed and cause the cities spending to increase even more beyond our means.

While no doubt a good buy, was it really all that important to buy the Columbian Building next to the Hilton at this time? Even though claims say it will save $1 Million a year, we increased our debt by at least $18 Million to obtain it.

With all of the uncertainty surrounding CRC, C-Tran and extending the financially plagued Max Light Rail Line a short distance into the city, is it wise that the city remains focused on constructing that at any cost? During these dire times, is it really that much of a priority?

Especially considering that struggling citizens are being hit-up again for an increased sales tax, tolls both ways on any new bridge and discussions of pre-tolling two existing bridges to begin building a chest to pay for the project?

Can we forget too that there remains a proposal to bring a Class A Baseball team into the city that will require construction of a brand new $24 Million stadium in an already cramped neighborhood that will not even be able to hold ample parking, sending potential patrons to Clark College to park or take up scarce parking at the Vancouver Campus of the Veterans Hospital?

And, those same struggling citizens are hearing they will be on the hook for some 70% of the construction costs for that by implementation of yet another tax, this time on whatever entertainment they may enjoy.

If the above isn’t enough, we also see plans still in the works for a $44 Million Waterfront Access Project currently running behind schedule, necessitating city council agreeing “to delay by one year a private developer’s contribution toward paying for its waterfront road access project.”

Is this really the right time?

Mr. Holes also informs city employees of his thoughts for the months and years ahead as this “Great Recession” continues unabated saying, “As we navigate toward the future, my intent in leading the organization in a bold new journey – one that balances a strong sense of business purpose with care for our citizens and employees. On delivering results in a way that builds credibility with the community we serve – so as to inspire their future reinvestment in public services. General fund revenues will not meet our mid to long term community demands without additional resources.”
“Potential new taxes covering City operating expenses are a tough sell, especially in this economy. We have not yet repaired our broken business model to stabilize future costs. We have and continue to make changes. We can do better.”

If you didn’t pick up on it, “future reinvestment” and “new taxes” are synonymous. They are the same thing. He speaks also of seeking “voter approval of a Preparedness Facilities bond in 2012.”

Something else you and I will be on the hook for.

He speaks more than once of a “business model” that is broken. I beg to differ, it isn’t broken, it is shattered. The cities desired solution to preserve city employee jobs and add more debt to continue an already unsustainable expenditure / revenue balance is a recipe for disaster, not recovery.

Construction of non-essential projects as currently planned, increasing taxes on businesses and citizens who have already been struggling and sacrificing for so long is not how we can save this sinking ship.

Public union employees must also share in the sacrifice and contribute their fair share matching the private sector.

Non-essential construction should be on the back burner until we climb out of this mess.

Mr. Holmes speaks of, “Shifting the trend of our overall cost structure to live within our means.”

Borrowing more money, non-essential construction and raising taxes in the midst of such an extended economic downturn is not “living within our means.”

I agree with Mr. Holmes on “We can do better.”

Not only CAN we do better, we MUST do better.

Taxpayers have done their part in sacrificing; now it’s the city government and union employees turn.

9 Responses to “Yes Mr. City Manager, Not Only Can You Do Better, You Must Do Better”

  1. We can start with the city manager taking a 25% pay cut. You know… to set the example?

  2. I keep saying this same thing week end and week out.
    They have one goal down at the city council and fiscal control isn’t part of it.

  3. Symbolic gesture, yes. But as you say, it would set an example.

    But, who honestly can think deficit spending is good in a recession as we have been in for so long?

    It’s sheer folly to spend what you don’t have and jump deeper and deeper into debt.

    Just as the GOP just did selling us out in the debt limit cave-in.

  4. As I said, Carolyn, if a bank tried to operate like the city has, regulators would have shut them down long ago.

    Common sense has to play a part along the line somewhere.

    I know some of them have it, I don’t know why they won’t use it.

  5. How can the smart growth/new urbanism crowd that runs Vancouver get ready for peak oil and climate change (which has been on a 10+ year vacation) without showering money on their buddies to build a whole new resilient city?

    On the CRC:
    To all elected officials:

    A vote for CRC is:
    a VOTER FOR TOLLS
    a VOTE FOR LRT.

    The voters will remember YOU each time they pay the toll you voted for!

    See:
    DebunkingPorltand.com
    SustainableORegon.com
    NoLightRail.com

    thanks
    JK

  6. Like it has been so eloquently stated, its time to do what must be done at so many differing levels. I do believe that our city level unions need to start looking each community member in the eyes and show us why their job is so important. And I am speaking of ALL of them.

    I am not into the Clark County or City awards business that seems to continuously show up at both meetings every week as a glad handing membership.

    Eric, its time to look us all in the eyes and tell us the FULL truth of what our options are. Some of our unions are not going to like what needs to be done. But if they knew that it was a serious sacrifice, maybe they would take 25 percent paycut to save more jobs. I have a feeling that we are going to have to pay the piper at some point and not all of us are going to pay more taxes without some form of decent accountability. Let us stop these stupid downtown projects to nowhere and let us get some good accounting of what needs to happen.

    And to Carolyn, Margaret and Josephine, I repeatedly you comment at the both meetings. Josephine stood up and is trying to change things from an elected official side. May be its time you joined her? Do you really see any thing changing if the old guard gets elected for the upteenth time? You have repeatedly come before the two governing bodies with suggestions, comments and thoughts but DO you see it actually sinking in or things changing?

    I do see Anne Ogle standing up, maybe you need to try elected office too? Maybe not this round but the following round if Tim or the two others in those spots are still trying to get votes.

  7. Lew’s post should send a huge red flag to ALL members of the Vancouver City Council. Change course to fiscal responsibility or please step down for the sake of your city.

  8. They’re too arrogant and elitist to step down, Liz. They think they’re somehow “better” than anyone else.

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