Q: If the city budget worsens, what would you cut?
A: Being a City Council member, you are part of a team. This team includes all City Council members, unions and all employees from every department of the city — from the department heads to the janitors. It takes everyone working together to obtain our common goal: a balanced budget.
This last year, city employees gave back $2.3 million in concessions. If the city is in a budget deficit again this year, that is where we would have to start. If all departments of the city are affected, so should the contracted companies.
After meeting with unions and department heads to get their ideas where they can help cut back expenditures and reassessing their concessions (i.e., uniform allowances, travel expenses and education allowances), we should meet with contracted services and reevaluate their contracts. Then, only if needed, return seeking further concessions from department heads and unions to avoid the layoffs that have plagued other neighboring cities.
Q: As a member of the council, how would you work effectively with other members whose perspectives conflict with your own?
A: During my years of employment, I have dealt with many conflicts and stressful situations on a daily basis, whether it was answering 911 calls in an emergency dispatch center or responding to fire or medical emergencies. During this time, I have realized that keeping a level head and listening to people and being respectful of their opinions is the best way to overcome conflict.
Being a council member does not mean you are without conflict; it essentially means you will probably have to work with more conflict, both from other council members and concerned citizens of Lodi.
The City Council consists of five people from very different heritages and backgrounds, and each will have a different outlook on the issues that are presented to them. Sometimes they will never agree on certain issues, but each council member is given their chance to present their objections and concerns to the remaining members of the council.
It is important to be considerate and respectful of each others' positions on the issues that are presented, if we agree with each other or not. Then listen, rather than arguing, to obtain the best overall outcome for the city and its citizens.
Q: Many cities are looking into outsourcing or privatizing some operations. What could be outsourced for the city of Lodi?
A: I am not in favor of outsourcing city departments.
A private company's main concern is profit, and everything else comes secondary. Privatization does cost less money for the city for certain services up front, but little can be done about long-term price control and overall quality of services. This would not save or produce more jobs within the city because a private company is always trying to find a way to do more with less. If a private company obtains our business, yes, they will hire people, but the city will have to lay off people because of losing that business.
A lot of people have asked me about privatizing the Lodi Electric Utility District by going to PG&E. I do agree that PG&E rates are lower than our current rates. However, I think we should concentrate on lowering our current electric rates instead of just going with another company. The EUD has a large project starting right now that will, in turn, reduce our current rate to match or even drop lower than the rates of PG&E (see final question).
Q: What is your vision for Lodi in 10 years and, as a council member, how will you work to achieve it?
A: I would like to grow Lodi as a family city as well as a destination location. I would like to attract a bowling alley, which would provide many different bowling leagues, open play, family nights and much more family-based entertainment. I would also like to attract a family entertainment facility, such as Boomers. This facility would provide miniature golf, go-kart racing, batting cages, arcades and much more. These would bring more jobs and revenue to the city while promoting a family environment.
I would also like to expand the aquatics division of the city by building more swimming pool facilities and providing Red Cross-based water safety courses, swimming lessons and lifeguard training. These classes provide skills that can benefit children for a lifetime and promote a community atmosphere at the pools.
One of Lodi's proud accomplishments is its wine industry, which in turn makes Lodi a destination location. By supporting the wine industry, we will draw more visitors to the area, increasing income for local businesses and in return improving the overall economic future for the city and all its residents.
Q: Outline specifically how you would bring new jobs to Lodi. If part of your plan is to hire an economic development director, specify yardsticks to ensure the position is cost-effective.
A: Currently, the city is working with the San Joaquin Partnership, a private, nonprofit economic development corporation serving all of San Joaquin County. Their main focus is business attraction, retention and expansion into and throughout incorporated cities within the county.
The city should work more closely with this company to find out some of the reasons that businesses are going to other cities like Stockton, Tracy or Manteca. Then, see what we can change to make our city more attractive to these companies.
Other candidates are trying to push the idea of an economic development director, but I think this is not a good idea right now, because of the economy and the city's current budget. This action can already be done by the current city staff, and we will not have to create a new position for which we would need to find more funding.
Q: How can city payroll and pension costs be controlled?
A: These two sections of the budget take of the majority of the monies that are distributed by the city, totaling just over $38.5 million for the 2010-2011 year. Payroll consists of $31.5 million, and the city pays $7 million each year for employee pensions. The city of Lodi covers 100 percent of the contributions for each employee's pension, which also covers the smallpercentage (7 percent non-public safety and 9 percent public safety) employee contributions.
Many cities are proposing that the employees pay their part of the contributions. There has also been a tiered retirement system proposed by other City Council candidates.
However, both payroll and pension contributions are covered and secured by the union contracts, and cannot be altered until they expire. At that time, all the above possible solutions have to be considered and will be used to negotiate the best possible contract for both the employees and the city of Lodi.
Q: The city's electric utility is now recovering from a financial crisis created by burdensome debt. How can near-meltdowns in this operation be avoided in the future?
A: Since this problem has occurred, the city has established an electric utility oversight committee to provide additional supervision of the activities and actions of the electric utilities department. I would propose that this committee report to the council once a quarter to ensure this problem does not happen again.
The Lodi utility used to have a much lower bond rating of non-investment grade (BBB-), but has improved to a much higher rating of upper-medium grade (A-). This allows the utility department to obtain better rates on future bonds and be able to forward those savings onto the consumers of Lodi.
The city of Lodi is working very close with the Northern California Power Agency to bring a new power production plant to our area, which will start producing electricity in June 2012. This new energy center will contain one of the cleanest and most efficient gas-fired systems in the state. This project will provide a one-time revenue of $2.3 million upon construction and an annual revenue of $1 million to the city. When this energy center comes online, this should provide large savings for the Lodi's electric utility department, which will be passed on to Lodi citizens.