Public options

We’re finally starting to see some detailed proposals for closing Sacramento’s $43 million budget gap. By this time next month, the Sacramento City Council will have to approve $14.6 million in cuts to various city services and somehow wring about $5 million or $6 million in labor concessions from city unions.

But since the economy isn’t coming back, city leaders will also be looking for new future revenue sources—maybe even asking voters to help out by approving higher taxes.

On Tuesday (after this column was written, but before it was published—print is weird, huh?), the council was set to approve an array of new and higher fees for city services. Brand-new charges include a “dangerous dog” fee of $300. Damn, dangerous dogs used to be free. History buffs will pay twice as much for photocopies from the Center for Sacramento History, from 25 cents to 50 cents per copy. Take that, history buffs. And it could cost you more to die, due to a $50 “burial and cremation administrative service fee” at the Old City Cemetery.

But that’s nothing. The real money is in the kinds of schemes cooked up by the city’s outside budget consultant, Management Partners, in their final report to the council this week.

Some of these ideas seem reasonable. For example, the city could levy a tax on parking in public parking lots. San Francisco charges a 25 percent tax; L.A. and Oakland charge about 10 percent. A 10 percent tax in Sacramento, according to the consultants, would generate $3 million a year, according to the report.

Other proposals seem boneheaded, like trying to wring $5 million to $7 million in “franchise fees” out of SMUD. Aside from dinging ratepayers, it would require changing state law. Good luck with that.

Others are sure to be politically explosive. Like restructuring fire departments to have fewer firefighters on duty at a time, or contracting out services in other departments, or, as the report suggests, levying a parcel tax of $100 per homeowner in the city to pay for services. That last one would generate $10 million to $14 million a year.

Even some relatively small dollar items are likely to stir trouble.

The consultant suggested cutting some of the city’s standing advisory boards and commissions, some of which don’t meet very often, or can be absorbed by other agencies. But there’s already been some pushback against a recommendation to eliminate the Community Racial Profiling Commission.

Betty Williams, president of the Sacramento chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told the council last week that “In light of the recent actions in Arizona, I think it’s important that we maintain this investment.” Indeed.

On that cheerful note, Bites would like to remind all you Leslie Knope types out there that May 16 to 22 is National Public Works Week. The theme this year, according to the American Public Works Association, is “Public Works: Above, Below & All Around You.” Getting a little choked up?

The resolution adopted by the city council recognizing Public Works Week reads, in part, that “the health, safety, welfare and quality of life of the City of Sacramento residents greatly depends on … the efficient delivery and operation of public works systems and programs, such as solid waste collection and disposal, neighborhood traffic management, recycling, parking, traffic operations, street maintenance, engineering, architecture, animal care, urban forestry and fleet and facility maintenance.” And so the city would like to “urge Sacramento residents and civic organizations to acquaint themselves with Sacramento public works services and programs.”

Before they are all gone.