As the global and national financial tsunami hits and rolls over small towns like Auburn, the initial impacts are both evident to the naked eye and not so visible at the same time. Just walking around town, we can clearly see an increase in empty storefronts. Less visible, but just as real, are the diminished bottom-lines of locally-owned businesses that are still surviving by the skin of their teeth, shrinking donations to non-profits that help the vulnerable in our community and rapidly declining tax revenues that are needed to fund vital municipal services.
As the intense and critical debate about how to rebuild our economy takes place in Washington D.C. and the capitols around the world, what can a small town like Auburn possibly do about this complex situation and mammoth problem? As we head into what could be a severe recession in 2009, I believe that Auburn should carry out a 3-Step Action Plan that focuses on the fundamentals and is fiscally prudent.
Maintain Public Safety. A local economy can’t thrive unless business owners and customers feel safe. A community-oriented policing strategy that educates the public, deters crime, tracks gang activity, quickly cleans-up graffiti, and arrests those who have committed crimes is indispensable to improving our quality of life and boosting job creation. To support this vital function, the city will invest $3.8 million out of a General Fund budget of $10.3 million this year in supporting a highly trained and proactive police department. Given the incredible decline in the local economy in recent months, the budget for our police department, like all the departmental budgets in the city, will be once again fully examined to maximize efficiencies and effectiveness in protecting the public.
Investing in Infrastructure. A local economy can’t thrive if its roads, sidewalks, and sewer lines fall apart through neglect. That is why the city is investing $9.3 million next year in capital projects, such as road and sidewalk repair, out a total general fund and special funds budget of $24.8 million. And for the first time in Auburn history, we are going to invest $2.8 million in redevelopment funds for a Streetscape Project at the central intersection on Lincoln Way in Downtown to create an attractive, pedestrian-friendly place for outdoor dining. These redevelopment dollars can’t be used for salaries, benefits or for other functions normally provided through our General Fund but can be used to fund this kind of important construction project, which will help support local jobs and businesses. And in investing $10 million to upgrade the city’s wastewater treatment plant in the Ophir area, we are also doing everything possible to keep sewer rates for residents and business owners as low as possible. We know that people are struggling to pay their food, health care, and utility bills.
Transparent and Accountable Government. Over the last several years, the City Council has, working in conjunction with the City Manager and staff, enacted a number of reforms in our labor contracts and policies that creates a more rational and cost-effective management structure. But we must, considering the huge financial challenges that face in 2009, 2010 and beyond, do even more to transform our current processes to better track our performance and maximize the services provided to residents. I will work to implement in Auburn a thoughtful series of “Budgeting for Results” reforms that have worked well in other cities.
We shouldn’t sugarcoat the fact that 2009 and 2010 are going to be very tough years for residents, local business owners and the City of Auburn. We have to adapt to the things that we can’t control – actions by the federal and state government – and be smart and aggressive about those things that we do control. What can residents do? “Think Auburn First” when it comes to purchasing a good or service. Local businesses are the lifeblood of our community. They provide exceptionally friendly service, unique goods and services, provide jobs to local residents, donate to local charities and festivals, support our schools, and provide needed tax revenues to local governments to strengthen public safety, fix our roads, and create wonderful park and recreation opportunities. Your dollars give the power to make an important difference in our unique community.