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2013 will be big year for new council

Issues include taxes, fees, attracting new business
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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The newly seated Rocklin City Council will preside over a number of important issues in 2013.

Sworn in Dec. 11, new members Greg Janda and Dave Butler join a council led by newly appointed Mayor Diana Ruslin.

The last council hired a new city manager, police and fire chief, approved a general plan update and reduced city staffing.

Councilmember Scott Yuill believes the decisions the new council will make will be based on what the city can afford.

“To achieve any measure of success, however, we must remain fiscally sound at all levels,” Yuill said.

The city operates a balanced annual budget and hasn’t relied on cash reserves this year, with new raises for city employees starting next month.

Former City Councilmember Peter Hill spent three decades on the council and believes due to little hiring with the economy, some departments have fallen behind in staffing.

“The city will see more tax revenue and will have the ability to add staff,” Hill said.

The last City Council pre-sided over a police department with one officer per 1,000 residents, the national average. But since 2009, that number has slipped to 0.88 per 1,000 residents. Some are calling for increased school resource officers, as well. The Parks and Recreation staff has also endured yearly cuts and layoffs.

 

Road maintenance

As the city becomes built out, the crumbling roads of aging subdivisions from Rocklin’s building boom will need extensive repair, with limited state funds available.

“Gas tax (revenue) has never been enough to pay for all the road repair that the city could do or would like to do,” Hill said. "I don’t see that changing.”

The next council will have to decide which roads to save and which repairs to delay.

Yuill has been on the council since 2006 and believes road maintenance is one of the most pressing and largest financial matters facing the city. He said it’s something that needs to be fully studied for proper attention.

 

Pension reform

Yuill also believes pension reform is a pressing need for the next council.

“I support a thorough and honest study of both so we have a complete understanding of their real costs and legitimate options, setting aside politics and emotions that both topics tend to bring to the discussion,” Yuill said.

Compensation amounts to 61.97 percent of the annual city budget, according to the city.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature enacted changes that will give Rocklin extra tools to negotiate union contracts, which the next council will have to use in earnest to keep labor costs affordable.

 

Business

Former Mayor Brett Storey, who left office Dec. 11, hopes the next council will use Highway 65 as a business magnet.

“I would hope that the next council looks toward continuing to bring in business along the Freeway 80 and Highway 65 corridors as the highest priority,” he said. “Without redevelopment, the downtown area will likely never become an economic center. I am confident that the next council will do the right thing.”

Along the lines of being competitive for business, Yuill said it’s time to rethink how the city charges its businesses.

“Higher fees and taxes are not a solution, in my opinion,” he said. “Ordinances and fees and regulations must be analyzed even further than they have been.”

Last year, an official from Rocklin-headquartered SMA America threatened to move its manufacturing plant if the city didn’t address business taxes, which are based on a company’s gross receipts. The city may change its business tax methods, and the next council will have to decide how to do that without breaking the bank.

Hill believes the business license tax will be addressed by the council, as will other business fees.

“The development fees have not come to council yet, so the new council will have that to deal with,” Hill said.

With a relaxed sign ordinance expiring at the end of next year, the new council may decide to make it permanent, as the Rocklin Area Chamber of Commerce has signaled, or extend it. To end the “stimulus measure” may be a hard sell, as business owners have expressed the popular newly allowed A-frame signs have increased business from passing cars.

“Updating aspects of our sign ordinance and related regulation is one of the first places to start,” Yuill said of business reforms.

 

Quiet zones

In 2013, the council is expected to decide if seeking a federally recognized “quiet zone” for its rail crossings to silence train horns is appropriate.

Former train attendant Ken Rogers, who witnessed the deaths of two people at a Loomis crossing in 1967, warned the city on several occasions that proposed quiet zones are unacceptable.

“Listening to train horns as a neighbor of a railroad costs far less than the tragedies thrown upon the accident victims caused by a quiet zone,” he said.

 

Meeting space fees

With last month’s uproar over the city’s plan to start charging nonprofit organizations for their use of city buildings, the next council could decide how to proceed in 2013.

The debate centers on if a city building should pay for itself or if it is more important for the city to exempt service organizations that do good work in the community and are not in a position to afford the new fees.

 

Park maintenance

The city subsidizes the maintenance of its 30 developed parks because the park tax it collects doesn’t sufficiently pay for the job.

In 2008, the city tried to increase the voter-approved park maintenance fund, but was defeated. The next year it was restored, but only at its previous funding level. Could the city try it again after all the tax increasing rancor?

“I doubt the new council will want to place a new tax on the ballot,” Hill said.

 

Oak tree preservation

Next year, the council will be handed a report from a consultant hired by the city that is expected to recommend how the city should spend its $1.4 million oak tree mitigation fund it has been collecting from developers who remove trees.

Hill doesn’t want the fund squandered on park land, but wants to see more trees in open spaces.

“Use the money to plant new trees in areas where none exist now throughout Rocklin,” Hill said. “That is an issue they will have to decide.”

The last term saw 1,200 trees removed to develop the Interstate 80 Sierra College Corridor. Organized community activists vow to continue to bring their message to the new council.

 

Moving forward

Yuill said overall, with so much at stake, there is no room for political rhetoric.

“It’s time to put our heads together and craft meaningful solutions collectively,” Yuill said. “I’m eager to hear from the entire council after they get seated and from staff, the professional experts, to offer fair and reasonable options. There will no doubt be several individual ideas and opinions, and I look forward to working with the council to make decisions that best serve our community.”

City staff has scheduled strategic planning sessions with the next council, open to the public, beginning next month.