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Keep your eye on the ball

Jack Balshaw 4/23/2003


Things seem to be looking up lately. A Citizen's Advisory Committee has come up with a rational plan for fixing the city's streets, the City Council has put Rainier back on the list of planned future projects, and the Central Petaluma Specific Plan is finally in line for approval after seven plus years. What do all these items have in common? They're all just plans.

There's a big gap between accepting a plan and doing something about it. The biggest part of this gap is committing money to start doing some actual work. That's where the city budget comes in, and soon.

The annual budget is supposed to be publicly available at the first council meeting in May so the council has two months to hold hearings before a June 30 approval deadline. If staff hits the target date for budget submission, we will have the whole thing dropped in our laps just one week from now. Then the confusion begins.

The city has several budgets - the General Fund budget, which is supposed to be approved by June 30, the Capital Improvement budget, which covers all construction and has no mandated approval date, and the Redevelopment Commission budget that floats around in the background. These several budgets cause much confusion to people who have to handle just one household budget.

The CAC street repair program, which will probably be considered in the Capital Improvement Plan budget, was recommended to have several million dollars of General Fund money used to get the repairs started. However if the General Fund budget is approved prior to the Capital Improvement Plan budget there is not likely to be any general funds money left to get this program started. It will be important during the hearings on the general funds to observe how much is set aside for street repair.

The Rainier issue is a different story. You might have noticed that the council unanimously approved its inclusion back in a plan. This might seem strange considering some are strongly opposed to ever building it. But consider this, it won't be formally considered as part of the General Plan (that word plan again) until that plan is approved in late 2004 or early 2005.

This means any movement (location, state approval, design, EIR, construction plans, etc.) towards actually building Rainier will sit stalled until that date. So, we have unanimous approval to add Rainier to the list of future projects but with the tacit understanding that nothing will be done to even start moving the project forward for over two years. Perhaps some think that in two years a different council might be less favorable to Rainier? Don't let this item slip back into obscurity.

Last but not least, the Central Petaluma Specific Plan is moving right along, maybe. Will this plan (that word again) be held up like the street repair plan and the Rainier plan until it can be formally incorporated into the General Plan? Or will it and action on the Kenilworth site somehow move ahead independently? Some projects, which have patrons, seem to receive special attention.

The city can put so many balls in the air that it is very difficult for the general public to keep an eye on them all. An easy way to at least know which items are being "seriously considered" is to observe the amount of money assigned to their furtherance in the several budgets noted above. If there is little or no money earmarked for them, it's all smoke and mirrors.

This annual, dull, boring, confusing budget ritual is very important to identify what is being seriously considered and what isn't. It's also a time to match up campaign promises with action.


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