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By Richard Viczorek
There has been a lot of discussion recently about the financial health of our city. And whether you believe our city is on sound financial footing or is headed off the fiscal cliff, there is general agreement that, looking forward, the city should take action now to ensure expenditures do not outpace revenues in the long term.
I have heard some community leaders advocate that their solution is to raise taxes and fees to increase government revenues. As a fiscal conservative, this is not my first instinct when facing a possible budget deficit. Rather, we must first look at reigning in spending. This does not mean that we should not spend any money. However, it does mean evaluating specific line items in the proposed budget, no matter the size. Although $10,000 here or $20,000 there may not at first seem that significant in a $36 million budget, eventually it can add up to significant savings.
Looking at the line items in the budget also allows us to identify where our priorities lie as a community. As a result, I have reviewed the proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2018-19. I found several examples that I do not believe represent our community’s priorities. The first item that jumped out at me was that the city has budgeted $25,000 in both FY 18-19 to sponsor the State of the City address. For those who are unaware of what this is, it is an annual event where the mayor presents a speech regarding the city to those active in our community (usually at one of our 5-star hotels). While it is a worthwhile event, I don’t agree that our city should spend $25,000 each year for our mayor to make a speech.
The proposed budget also once again includes $20,000 in FY18 and another $20,000 in FY19 to sponsor the Dana Point Symphony. This comes at the same time as the sponsorship for the Dana Point Grand Prix Bike Race, which has been reduced from $20,000 in FY17 to $10,000 in FY18 and then eliminated altogether in FY19. This raises the question: why has the symphony been spared from any cuts? This question must be asked when considering that the symphony plays in a church in a residential neighborhood while the bike race attracts thousands of people to the Lantern District with results in benefits to our small businesses. Also, the symphony sells tickets, pays an executive director and has many wealthy patrons who could support it privately. How long must the city continue to subsidize this? Similar to the bike race, the symphony has been around long enough and must eventually stand on its own. I suggest the city reduce its sponsorship to $10,000 in FY18 and phase it out entirely in FY19.
The last item I noted is that the proposed budget has eliminated funding for the Dana Point BBQ Championship. While this will result in substantial savings for the city ($90,000), this funding is not proposed to be phased out (e.g. $45,000 in FY18 then down to zero in FY19) which would give the event an opportunity to see if it could stand on its own. This concerns me because there is a hidden cost to losing this event that most residents may not understand. Our local VFW Post 9934 is a significant beneficiary of funds raised at this event. (Full and transparent disclosure: I am a proud member of VFW Post 9934.) But while this potential loss of funding concerns me, it is not for personal reasons. Rather it is because of what it would mean to the community.
The VFW is a nonprofit, volunteer organization dedicated to serving veterans and their families. Neither I, nor any other member of our Post receives remuneration for our time and efforts. This means that every dollar raised by the VFW is spent for the benefit of our local veterans and their families. For example, in the last year, our Post provided over $55,000 to help those who needed assistance paying their rent, mortgages or car loans. The VFW also helped those who needed their cars repaired to get to work and those in need of extra food and diapers. This list is not exhaustive.
Sometimes there is more to a budget than just the numbers. How we decide to spend money can be just as important as how much we spend. Perhaps there are other ways we can support our military veterans than the BBQ Championship. As illustrated above, I believe the budget, as currently proposed, falls short as an expression of this community’s values and priorities. We need to get it right.
*Editor’s Note: The proposed budget can be viewed online at www.danapoint.org/home/showdocument?id=21964.