Friday, July 31, 2009

State Steals Your Tax Money

Community Member Question:

With the state taking away City funds, what can we as residents do to help the City conserve funds?

City Manager Response:

Excellent question and very timely given the adoption of the State budget this week. Before I respond to your question, let me make a comment about the recent State theft of your tax money. Because the State has not been able to live within its means, it has reached into the pockets of Fontana to take money out of our community. The State will keep $2 million of your property tax payments this year (with a promise to pay us back in the future) as well as require the City’s Redevelopment Agency to write the State a check for another $35 million this year and an additional $7 million next year.

So what does that mean to the citizens of Fontana? It’s really quite simple. Since we have no other alternative than to live within our means, there will be $2 million less in the bank available to spend on services and critical community needs. The $35 million theft from Redevelopment means that critically needed traffic, storm drain and other infrastructure projects will have to be deferred or cancelled; fewer jobs will be created for our economy; increased expenses to develop; and, traffic problems will not be fixed.

Please remember, the City of Fontana is not a budgeted expense of the State of California. The City operates on its own revenue streams as a separate legal entity. This is not about cutting State spending, it is about stealing taxes paid in the City of Fontana that are intended to be used in the City of Fontana. Yes, we plan on joining the efforts to put forward a legal challenge regarding the Redevelopment theft, but even if we prevail in this effort, it will take the better part of a year to get a determination by the court. In the mean time, our community suffers.

So, what can the residents of Fontana do to help us conserve money? Certainly volunteering with the City or one of the various community groups is a wonderful and important way to help out. Cleaning up parks, reporting or cleaning up graffiti, volunteering with the Police Department, joining a neighborhood watch program, volunteering at the library, making a conscious effort to “Shop Fontana”, volunteering at a community or senior center, supporting your local businesses, and getting your animals spayed and neutered are all wonderful ways of reducing the strain on the resources needed to support this community.

It has been a tough year financially for the City. We have cut over 50 full-time jobs that included several layoffs. We have reduced spending across the board. All-in-all, we have cut spending by nearly $10 million while continuing to provide quality services to the community. We have worked very hard. This is why the new thefts by the State are particularly galling to me. I am frustrated, but I also remain optimistic about the future of this wonderful community. The Mayor and City Council have a clear vision for what they would like to accomplish in this community. I am very confident that by working together, we will accomplish that vision.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Animal Control Services

For the past several years, the City of Fontana has contracted with the City of San Bernardino for animal control services. Recently, due to budget constraints created by the economy, the City of Fontana was notified by the City of San Bernardino that they would no longer be able to provide those services on our behalf. The City of San Bernardino decided to end field services in Fontana as of July 1, 2009 and said they would continue to provide shelter services through the end of the calendar year.

As animal control services are one of the vital services needed by our community, Fontana elected to begin providing field services to the residents of Fontana as of July 1. We are still looking for alternatives for sheltering services in the future.

The new field program for animal control services, when fully staffed, will consist of four animal control officers, one animal control supervisor, two part-time license canvassers and one call taker. Used animal control vehicles were purchased from both the City of Corona and the City of San Bernardino. Over time, these vehicles will be supplemented with newer equipment as well.

Animal control field services will be administered by the Police Department. Funding for the new program is provided by the City’s general fund. While we believe that our historical costs will increase for these services, the current budget has been supplemented by about $350,000 from current year budgetary savings. The anticipated cost for animal control services for the City of Fontana will be about $1 million per year. Animal control services can be requested using our police dispatch number 350-7700.

Approximately 6,000 animals a year (both dogs and cats) are transported to the shelter in the City of San Bernardino. Dead animal pickup is supplemented through a contract with a company that disposes of dead animals, and also by the use of Public Works staff. For the longer term, the City of Fontana is having discussions with the City of San Bernardino, County of San Bernardino and County of Riverside to consider shelter options.

The City of Fontana is in a similar position to several other local communities. Several cities rely on contract services for sheltering animals. Discussions are under way with these communities about the possibility of creating a joint powers authority (JPA) that would allow several communities to development a partnership for animal control sheltering services. Such a partnership would likely require both an initial up-front capital investment for facilities as well as ongoing costs associated with housing animals that are picked up. Obviously, the significant numbers of animals that are generated by our community make it difficult for an existing shelter to absorb our workload.

We feel the positive side to taking over aspects of the animal control services is that, over time, the City of Fontana will be able to provide improved services within the community. Certainly, as we ramp up the program, there will be some growing pains along the way. We welcome all residents to provide the City with their comments and suggestions as we learn from and work through this new challenge. Also, please note that pet owner responsibility is critical to the success of our program and in assisting us in keeping costs down. Low cost spay and neuter programs are available that are very important to keeping the proliferation of animals to a minimum. This is very important, especially when you consider that the costs spent on animal control services take away from other programs that the community needs.

Thank you for your patience during this time of change. By all of us working together, we can continue to make this city a wonderful place to live.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fireworks in the City of Fontana

July 4th is the day we celebrate our nation’s independence. It is a time for family and friends to come together with picnics, community events and fireworks shows.

In the past weeks, my office has received a number of calls from Fontana citizens asking about the sale and use of fireworks in the City of Fontana. Three years ago, the City Council took an action to ban the sale and use of all fireworks in the City of Fontana. The action was taken for a number of reasons including concerns about public safety and fire dangers. Since many community groups, however, rely upon the sale of fireworks to assist them financially, the City Council elected to approve a phase out period that would result in the elimination of the sale and use of all fireworks by July, 2009.

Last year a petition was circulated within the community, and enough legal signatures were gathered to require a special election to be held in support of continuing the legal sale and use of safe and sane fireworks in the community. Once this petition was certified by the County as being valid, the City Council was left with the option of either calling for a special election or approving an ordinance that would allow for the sale of safe and sane fireworks. The projected cost of the special election was estimated at $400,000. After a great deal of deliberation on the issue, the City Council decided, by split vote, to approve the continued sale and use of safe and sane fireworks in order to spare the significant expense of a special election.

As a result, the sale and use of safe and sane fireworks continues to be allowed in the City. There are a couple of important restrictions to note about the use of fireworks in Fontana. First, no fireworks are allowed to be used in high risk fire areas. These areas are defined in the ordinance as being west of the 15 freeway, north of Summit and east of Lytle Creek. Second, the use of fireworks that are not classified as “safe and sane” (e.g., those that explode or shoot into the area) are strictly prohibited. The Police Department will be out in force again this July 4th and will be citing individuals who violate the City’s code. Fines of $1,000 can be issued for fireworks violations.

Another change this year is related to the annual fireworks show put on by the City of Fontana. For the past several years, the City of Fontana has been hosting a fireworks show for the community at Fontana High School. Each year, this event has sold out and many people have been turned away. Thus, this year, the City has partnered with the Auto Club Speedway and KFROG to hold the annual fireworks show at the Speedway. Discount tickets have been made available to residents of the City of Fontana. The Speedway provides a large enough venue for all to enjoy, and an evening of entertainment and fireworks is a wonderful and safe alternative to setting off fireworks at home. The City of Fontana is very excited about this new partnership and would like to invite all of you to attend this year’s event.

Whatever your plans are for celebrating the Fourth of July this year, please remember to be safe and considerate of those around you. The City of Fontana is a wonderful community with a tremendous heritage of community spirit and pride. Enjoy the holiday and remember to be safe.