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Moving toward the light at the end of the tunnel Jim Sandoval | Sat, Mar 30 2013 12:00 PM

There is a light at the end of the tunnel – and it's not a train. Despite being pummeled by the Great Recession, the City of Chula Vista has continued to provide quality services, preserved public safety, maintained a favorable credit rating of A-, and moved forward with major economic development efforts like the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan and the university project. I’m happy to report that we are seeing modest improvements in our sales and property tax revenues and the housing market seems to be picking up. And while that’s definitely good news, we need to proceed cautiously to manage expectations – and our budget – as we plan for an even better future.

The City of Chula Vista has gone from a general funds budget of $166 million in 2006 to $125 million in 2012. The dramatic downturn in revenues resulted in major structural corrections including the layoff of 331 city employees -- 26 percent of our staff. Another key element to responding to this budget crisis was implementing pension reform. While other cities turned to the ballot box or implemented pension reform only for new hires, the City of Chula Vista achieved support from all five bargaining groups to implement comprehensive pension reform that impacts both current employees and new hires. All employees now pay their share of pension costs. This resulted in an immediate savings of $6 million annually. The bargaining groups also agreed to lower benefit plans for new hires. At the same time employees agreed to pay their pension contributions, they also agreed to cancel or defer planned salary increases. These significant steps were instrumental in sustaining Chula Vista as the economy staggered through the recession.

Our reality for the next few years is to provide services, maintain infrastructure, and plan for our future with about $125 million a year. What does $125 million get us? We maintain a high emphasis on public safety. Chula Vista has a great public safety record with the latest numbers showing our overall crime rate has dropped by 32 percent from 2007 – 2011. And, our Fire Department has an excellent response to fires and medical emergencies, keeping incidents to small and manageable.

We also have a remarkable parks and recreation system with more than 50 parks and over 60 sports fields located throughout the city. Our library system has adopted an entrepreneurial spirit with a library in the mall and a great ebook collection. And, while we have a backlog in upgrading our infrastructure, we strive to keep our streets, sidewalks, and buildings in decent shape. We also partner with our business community to promote a strong local economy that supports our businesses, creates quality work options for our residents and generates revenues for vital public infrastructure and services.

Planning for the Fiscal Year 2013-2014 budget is underway. Our plan is to stay the course and maintain existing service levels while we continue to improve our financial situation. However, we do want to know what services are most important to you. If we were to increase funding in one area, where would you spend those funds? Please let me know at communications@chulavistaca.gov.

We are committed to improving Chula Vista’s future by maintaining a balanced budget, delivering quality services, growing the economy, and improving the quality of life for residents. We appreciate your contributions to ensuring this future.

Sandoval is Chula Vista City Manager.

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