Hemlines and bottom lines

Chico’s budget is all the rage these days, with fiscal fash- ionistas crying red, red, red! The “$40 million deficit,” so in vogue last election season, has become the hot accessory this spring. Sales tax is such a scarce fabric that City Hall stylists are going easy on the hemlines. Are rationing and burlap pants the wave of the future?

We know the city has money issues, but we don’t think officials have to take the bargain-basement route to outfit our needs.

As Richard Ek points out in this week’s Guest Comment, providing services boils down to priorities. If City Manager Greg Jones thinks potholes should get filled, he’ll instruct the General Services Department to do so. Chicoans pay administrators (quite well) to turn such notions into actions.

Jones doesn’t operate in a vacuum. His priorities match those he gleans from the public—or, more precisely, the public’s representatives on the City Council, his true bosses. Let them know what you think is important as they start working on the next budget.

The Chico Police Department wants eight new officers. That’s what the chief has said he needs for a “full-service” force. Maybe most residents think crisis response is sufficient, considering what those new officers would cost; or maybe maintaining the current service level is worth $900,000 more in salaries and benefits.

That’s the essence of priorities.

Ek’s cover story on city expenses ("Breaking the bank,” March 29) revealed that 80 percent of the budget goes to employee compensation. The City Council just recently committed another 6 percent to loan repayments for sewer plant improvements alone, and the line items go on. Those figures presuppose revenues from sales tax, a volatile source considering the popularity of gift cards (tax exempt) and the increase in retail opportunities in neighboring towns.

Contrary to stereotypes, we—on the “progressive” side of the spectrum—don’t believe in blowing money on whatever enticing project comes along. We also don’t believe in whining about past decisions. We believe it’s time to look ahead, decide what’s important and budget accordingly. Fiscal responsibility is always fashionable.