By PAUL GILMAN
Paul Gilman is president of the Peace Officers Association of Petaluma
For the fourth year in a row, the city of Petaluma finds itself without enough revenue to maintain services. In the past three years, the Police Department has shaved millions of dollars from its budget and cut 16 positions, including 10 police officers. We no longer have police officers at our local schools, we are working with rapidly deteriorating equipment that is beyond its useful life, and we have all but eliminated overtime costs by working short whenever an officer is out sick or otherwise absent from work.
When presented with the prospect of cutting another $4 million from the city budget Mayor David Glass stated, “Now it’s up to the bargaining units on how they want to see this play out.” After many years of being forced to watch as local politics degrade our ability to keep this community safe, we would like to take the mayor up on that offer. Having been given the responsibility for fixing this mess, here are our immediate suggestions:
– Do not raise taxes. We live and work here and believe the city should be able to provide services with the money it already receives.
– Immediately lower the building-impact fees to a level comparable to nearby cities. This will allow the city to compete for new businesses, small and large.
– Immediately rescind the public art fee charged to new businesses (as Rohnert Park did in January). Forcing a new business to pay tens of thousands of dollars for art at a time when we are laying off police officers and allowing our streets to decay into wagon trails is irresponsible.
– Streamline the process for business and building applications with the city. Make it easier for people to create businesses and new jobs.
– Immediately redesign the city website to facilitate permits and business licensing online.
– Assign city planners directly to new projects. Task them with actually helping new businesses get through the process quickly.
– Task the Planning Commission with doing its job. Immediately dismiss any commissioner who makes a statement similar to, “Let’s look to put this somewhere else,” or “This project is just asphalt to me …”
– Do not spend another dollar on a study. At a thousand dollars a page, we believe the $140,000 spent on the recent economic development study could have been better spent streamlining how new and existing businesses interact with the city.
We truly believe that Petaluma has managed itself into this mess and can manage itself out of this mess. It is very popular to bash city workers right now, but the truth of the matter is police officers did not create this mess. Our police officers are paid substantially less than those of nearby cities. Our police officers pay 9 percent of our salary toward our retirement. We do not have paid medical in retirement, we have taken salary concessions to help the city, and we haven’t had a raise of any kind since December of 2007.
Most importantly, we are not complaining. There is a lot of misinformation out there about salaries, pensions and benefits. I can’t express enough that the information is largely inaccurate, but it could not be easily explained in detail here. We want a healthy city. We care a great deal about this city. A cut, cut, cut strategy will not fix the larger problem. As a municipality, with options, we cannot continually be turning away revenue while cutting services. It is not a sustainable approach to creating a healthy city.