My correspondence with residents the past few weeks has been pretty typical. I’ve received emails about potholes, lifted sections of the bike trail, and red light running on Empire Ranch Road. I’ve been tagged on social media posts about overflowing pet waste stations, mailbox theft, and railroad crossings. The city does an excellent job of responding to residents’ concerns and we are grateful to have you as our “eyes and ears.” But, we’ve made no secret about the fact we’re facing a structural deficit in the years to come. Decisions will need to be made about cuts and/or additional revenue that will affect city services and you, the residents, should be involved in those decisions. I want to hear from you.
In my official role as a member of the city council, I can’t advocate for or against a sales tax measure. I can take a position as an individual member of our community but I’m writing this post while wearing my council “hat.” I’ve worked hard the past five years to be a trusted resource for residents and to provide factual information and balanced insight. I implore you to do your own research and decide for yourself if you want to support a sales tax measure, cuts, or a combination thereof.
The city has significant capital needs that could largely be addressed with additional sales tax revenue. For example, Kids Play Park (aka Castle Park) is in desperate need of a new playground and many sections of our 50+ miles of trail are in need of replacement and repair as evidenced by the white spray paint that’s been applied by staff to indicate a hazard. We also have less sexy needs such as storm drain infrastructure, network and software needs, vehicles and equipment, etc.
Without additional revenue, we will continue our current practice of prioritizing projects and equipment based on funds available. This is not unlike what you and I do with our own household budgets. However, it often means we wait until infrastructure and equipment has failed, rather than replacing and upgrading those assets proactively.
With or without new sales tax revenue, we must continue to seek grant funding wherever possible and do all we can to protect our high property values as property taxes account for approximately 35 percent of our general fund revenue.
The city also has significant personnel needs, particularly in our police department. We have fewer employees overall, and nine fewer police officers, than the city did pre-recession. Additional sales tax revenue would allow us to hire much needed staff. However, this is also the area where we must show the most restraint. Salaries and benefits make up almost 75 percent of general fund expenditures. This makes sense as city services are dependent on the outstanding men and women who ensure public safety, maintain our streets and parks, help guests at the library, and so much more. But it also means the financial health of the city is overwhelmingly affected by our ability to manage personnel costs.
The city’s financial policies have historically called for a reserve, or rainy day fund, equal to at least 15 percent of general fund expenditures. Pre-recession, the reserve was about 26 percent. The council recently amended the policy to instead create a reserve range of 17-20 percent. This ensures we’re meeting the minimum reserve amount recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association and investing excess resources back into our community.
I have seen and heard comments encouraging the city to tighten its belt rather than seek new revenue sources. We are already starting to make cuts and will likely make more in the next fiscal year. For example, the city’s contract with Terracare for parks, trails, and streetscape maintenance ended 12/31/2023. Bids for a new contract came in over budget so the council recently voted to reduce the scope of services to match the funds available. The reduced services include removing all fertilization requirements, removing broadleaf and pre-emergent weed control applications, reducing mowing frequency from weekly to bi-weekly, reducing edging frequency from weekly to monthly, and reducing pruning frequency from seasonally to annually. (The above reductions don’t apply to sports fields.) Although this isn’t the standard we desire in Folsom, I think it’s a cost-cutting measure most residents will understand and can relate to with their own household budgets.
The council will be having multiple budget conversations over the next few months and I encourage you to participate and make your preferences known.
I post the agenda for every council meeting on this page as well as Folsom Chat and Folsom Politics. You may also subscribe to the city council agenda distribution list using this link: https://lp.constantcontactpages.com/su/GsV8E76. The city has recently launched a budget FAQ which may be found here: https://www.folsom.ca.us/…/faq-city-of-folsom-financial…
As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and feedback. I may be reached at email@example.com or on my mobile phone at (916) 798-5380.
Sarah Aquino is the Vice Mayor for the City of Folsom and. longtime local resident.