City manager starts year with high hopes

Rick Horst presides over $500,000 budget shortfall, despite millions in cuts
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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In a time of rampant change, sliding tax revenues, and a state that won’t keep its hands out of Rocklin’s wallet, City Manager Rick Horst is starting his second year on the job with a positive and enthusiastic attitude. “The truth is our horizon is very bright,” Horst said. “We need to get stable.” While sales tax revenues were up five percent last quarter over the year before, they’re still not as high as 2006-2007 when the economy tanked. “It is positive and going in the right direction,” Horst said. Horst wants Rocklin residents to spend their dollars in town. He said businesses that have popped up around the Blue Oaks Century Theatre have helped. “I don’t think people understand that we’ve got to spend the money in this community,” Horst said. This year, Horst presides over a budget that will have to dip into the city’s reserves by nearly $500,000. He’s hopeful the opening of Target and Wal-Mart stores at Sierra College Boulevard and Interstate 80 will boost sales tax in the coming years. “We have to be more long visioned and quit looking at how we just get through this year’s budget. I’m more interested in 2025 or 2030 when (the city is) built out,” Horst said. “We will not be able to rely on new development fees to balance the budget.” Last year Horst and a dedicated city staff has managed to save thousands here and there. It’s finally adding up to some serious money — more than $2 million, Horst estimates. He credits city workers for being creative. “People have gotten excited about being invited to be innovative, be creative, find solutions and resolve issues,” Horst said. “We’re finding that everyone is stepping up with ways to save money and, at the same time, maintain the level of services that are required.” Reducing $80,000 in fire department overtime maybe a low hanging fruit, but Horst said finding nearly $80,000 in savings by eliminating the city’s inventory of spare parts and $30,000 worth of savings from the city’s copy machines and printers have been the most pleasant surprises. “We’re looking at every little thing we do,” Horst said. Horst reorganized the Parks and Recreation department, which called for laying off three employees, eliminating summer swim lessons and Station Extreme, the after-school teen program. He also moved recreation staff to the newly-rehabilitated community center at Johnson-Springview Park. Attrition is impacting Horst’s office as well. He’s not replacing two assistant city managers and is personally taking over the responsibilities of the Economic Development Manager, who recently took a job with the state. Six employees were taken off the books through a Voluntary Separation Program, which will ultimately save the city nearly $500,000 next fiscal year, according to Horst. Horst won’t talk about regrets, but does express disgust with the state’s abolition of redevelopment agencies statewide. That decision will redirect about $54 million in city property taxes over the next three decades forcing the city to consider selling the Rocklin History Museum, the Big Gun Quarry and the new library building to help the state out of its budget hole. “There are a lot of questions out there and the cities are asking them, but the state doesn’t have very many answers,” Horst said. Last spring the city went on a redevelopment spending binge to prevent the hand over of $3.6 million in unencumbered bond funds to California. Among other things, Rocklin spent nearly $800,000 on the new library building, $460,000 to upgrade the Rocklin Event Center and $295,600 for Grove and Meyers Street roundabouts, which will be built later this year. “Was it the best project in the world? Probably not. At least it was realized in our community and we’re not writing a check to the governor. There was indeed benefit to the community,” Horst said. The city manager wants to tackle barriers to Rocklin businesses. Later this month the council will consider a grant program to enhance downtown businesses, allow light pole banner advertising and fee reductions for business licenses and new development. “We’ve seen an uptick in small business licensing. Each month we’ve had 20 to 30 new business licenses issued,” Horst said. Next year Horst’s employment contract will make him eligible for a raise on his $198,000 salary plus benefits. While council members will not discuss the recent closed session evaluation of Horst’s job performance, they have high praise for Rocklin’s top manager. Council member Scott Yuill said Horst has exceeded his expectation for one year on the job. “He has remained focused in key areas: right-sizing expenditures and compensation, and laying the groundwork for a business-friendly economic development strategy,” Yuill said. Mayor Brett Storey said Horst is a necessary change agent for the city. “With his out-of-the box thinking, he has invigorated our staff to reach new levels of efficiency and creativity,” Storey said. “He is a rare find in the world of government leaders and will certainly lead Rocklin roaring back to fiscal stability!”