Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Men & Women in Blue - "Friends not Foes"

Community Member Question:

Though we need police to serve as our protectors of our families and possessions, they are often disliked until the need arises and their services are needed. In most cases many residents do not associate with the police unless it is at a time that their service is needed and in doing their job, many residents take it personal when they do get their way. How does the city try to mend the relationship with the public and get them to realize they are there for the good of all and they themselves are family orientated and not pushing authority?

City Manager Response:

First, let me say that I disagree with your premise that police are disliked within the community. My experience shows me that police are highly respected in the community and that most people understand they are doing a difficult job for the benefit of the community and for the safety of individuals that live, work and play in Fontana.

Certainly there are some individuals that have had a bad experience with the police, but I believe that this is the minority of individuals and it often has occurred at a time where a situation has taken place where police need to go into harm’s way and take control of a bad situation to prevent it from escalating. This is what police are trained to do and the absence of such influence, some situations would likely move from bad to worse. I also realize that no one likes to get a traffic ticket. But we have laws on the books for the protection of others and it is the police’s job to enforce those laws.

With all of that said, fear of authority often comes from a lack of understanding. The City of Fontana Police Department has many programs that allow its police officers to get out into the community to “bridge” such gaps in understanding. These programs include:

Area Commander Program
This is a program where a Police Lieutenant has assigned responsibility for an area of the City and acts as Police Chief for that area. Between 30 and 40 community meetings are held each year in various areas throughout Fontana. Issues of concern are addressed at these meetings and the Area Commander has the authority to reach into the organization to bring whatever resources are necessary to address the issues.

Fontana Police Volunteer Program
Community members can share in the success of the Fontana Police Department by volunteering for a variety of tasks from office assignments to traffic control at a major traffic accident. The Police Department has a robust Volunteer Program that enhances the level of service the department provides the community.

FUSD Police Chief Program
In this program, a Police Lieutenant serves as Police Chief for the Fontana Unified School District (FUSD) Police Department. This allows two organizations to effectively work in cooperation with each other to address safety needs at various school sites.

School Resource Officer Program
This program places an officer at each middle school in all of the school districts that serve Fontana. This officer works with school children and can target at-risk youth for intervention.

Fontana Police Explorers
Community members as young as 14½ years of age can join the Fontana Police Department’s Explorer Post. This allows them to work side-by-side with a patrol officer. Explorers enjoy working in the police station and in the field at special events

Faith Based Community Meetings
This is a regular meeting between the Fontana Chief of Police and faith based organizations in Fontana to meet, discuss and address issues of common interest.

Breakfast with the Chief
The Chief of Police, in partnership with the Fontana Chamber of Commerce, meets quarterly with the business community to discuss issues that directly impact them.

Community Assistance Program
This is a program undertaken as a partnership between the Police Department and Water of Life Church to bring resources together to address families and community needs within Fontana. The Community Assistance Program (CAP) coordinates resources from around the County and makes them available to individuals needing assistance.

Shop with a Cop and Fontana Santas
These are programs that provide gifts during the holidays to families needing support throughout the Community.

These are but a few of the programs we have around town to begin putting a face on public safety. We also provide Children’s Safety Fairs, Red Ribbon Breakfasts, Teen Fests, Volunteer Programs, Emergency Preparedness, Explorers and many other events and activities designed to encourage community participation in public safety programs.

We are blessed in Fontana to have a very committed and professional Police Department. The men and women who work in public safety are always available to assist Fontana residents. Next time you see an officer, take the opportunity to say thanks for a job well done.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Communication Makes the World Go Round

Community Member Question:

Most people think that government doesn't listen to what they have to say or at least it was my experiences from other cities. In attending various Community meetings, Council meetings and Planning meetings I have been extremely surprised the City of Fontana has heard my requests and were open to making changes.

I had web changes made by giving information and the location to verify, a speed limit sign posted in a location where there were monitoring speeders, asked for locking shopping cart at one of the local store at the planning commission meeting, when they were discussing the building requirements, and they posted the importance of the visibility for verified response on the city statement and on you tube video (KFONTV) smart kids.

The hardest thing was to get a bus stop moved out of the thorough fare of Citrus and moved to a new turn out cove out of traffic’s way. That was because that is not directly under the cities control, but eventually was moved. How is it that the City of Fontana so open to suggestions and most cities seem to have their own agenda?

City Manager Response:

Thank you for the question. The answer is very simple. Fontana listens to the concerns of its citizens because the Mayor and City Council have made it a priority. The Mayor and City Council view the success of this Community as a partnership between its citizens, its businesses and its government. We can only be successful as a Community if all elements of the Community can be equally successful.

Tax Rate - Same or Higher?

Community Member Question:

Redevelopment plays many parts in a community, the design for job creation, increase in property values of existing structures, low income housing opportunities and much more. Property taxes on land and structure increase as they get new buyers, after redevelopment makes them more desirable to "purchase and once resold". How does the property tax increase due to improved value increase serve the community?

City Manager Response:

I’m sure you understand this, but to make sure there is no confusion, the tax rate for property does not increase when land is improved or resold. The tax rate remains the same, but it is applied to the value of the property which may have increased due to development or redevelopment of the property. The benefit to Fontana from such an increase varies depending on if the property is in a Redevelopment Project or not.

If the property being resold is not in a redevelopment area, the City receives 3.6 cents for every dollar in taxes paid by the property owner. This benefit is extremely low because the state has permanently “stolen” most of the property tax revenues that are normally used to pay for city services. For example, if a property owner that was paying $1,000 per year in taxes now pays $2,000 dollars a year, the City would see an additional $36 benefit.

If the property is in a Redevelopment Project Area, the increase in taxes paid would on average, result in a 70% benefit to the Redevelopment Agency. So in the same example listed above, the Redevelopment agency would see a return of an additional $700. The catch for the Redevelopment agency is that the monies received cannot be used to pay for government services.

The money can be used to pay down debt associated with capital projects such as the construction of streets, sewers, storm drains, etc. This, in part, is why we say that RDA is so critical to economic development. It is the investment of these RDA monies in various projects that allow for new private investment to take place in the community. It is this private investment that then pays a return in the form of increased sales taxes that can be used for paying for government services.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Community Participation is Vital

Community Member Question:

In every city there are issues with gangs and crime. How does Fontana address this issue and what role should the residents play to counter its expansion?

City Manager Response:

The Fontana Police Department has officers trained specifically in the identification and apprehension of illegal street gang members. Once the department is aware of a street gang, they work closely with the San Bernardino County District Attorney to have the court certify the gang and its members as an illegal street gang. Once this process is completed, the gang member receives significant punishment enhancements for the most recent criminal activity.

It is very important that the community work closely with the police department in identifying, not only gang activity, but also any suspicious activity. Police Chief Rod Jones continuously encourages the community to stay involved and stay informed by attending your local community meeting in your neighborhood. These community meetings cover everything from current crime statistics to upcoming community safety fairs.

You can make a difference in your neighborhood and your community by joining your Neighborhood Watch group. If your Neighborhood is interested in starting one if one doesn’t exist, contact the Fontana Police Department at (909)350-7710 for more information.

You can now file a report online anytime of the day by using Coplogic, an online citizen police reporting system at http://www.fontanapd.org/.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Simple Question - Complicated Answer"

Community Member Question:

When looking for a home in Fontana some areas paid about 1% on property tax and others paid an additional (LMD) Land maintenance district and yet others (CFD) Community Facility District fee. What are the differences in the property taxes costs?

City Manager Response:

Let me begin this response by first saying that the taxes and assessments paid by property owners on their homes vary significantly. It is very important, when purchasing a home, to take the time to understand these costs as they may have a significant impact on the long term cost of ownership. All taxes and assessments must be disclosed to the buyer of the property at the
time of purchase, but I find that not everyone takes to time they should in reading through the documents they sign. Taxes and assessments are created by votes of residents or property tax owners and are never optional payment items on the tax bill.

The only constant in property taxes is the basic property tax that everyone pays on their property. This is about 1.1% of the assessed value of the house at the time that it is purchased. Under the terms of proposition 13, this tax can only be raised by a maximum of 2% per year. So in an economy where prices are rising significantly, over time the taxes being paid on the property often have an effective rate well below 1.1% of the market value of the house. As a side note, the City of Fontana only receives 3.6 cents out of every dollar of property taxes paid by its residents. We used to receive a much higher percentage, but the State has taken that money away from the City during prior budget balancing schemes.

Some properties, in addition to the basic property tax may pay an assessment to a Landscape Maintenance District (LMD), Lighting, Landscape and Maintenance District (LLMD), or a Community Facilities District (CFD). It is also possible to have more than one assessment district that a property owner may be a part of. These districts are set up when the development is first approved by a vote of the land owners in the district.

These districts can be used to pay for the costs of the maintenance of common landscape/park areas, street lighting, graffiti abatement in the area, repair and replacement of facilities, etc. An assessment rate is created at the time the district is formed based upon the actual costs of the services being paid for divided by the number of properties sharing the costs in the area. In Fontana, these types of Districts typically cost between $200 to $800 a year. The maximum rate can be increased by 2% per year, but the City has a strong track record of keeping rates consistent in most of our service related districts. The rule of thumb is that rates may change for these districts about once every 7 years. There are a couple of maintenance districts in Fontana that are significantly more costly. These districts cost more because they have significant costs associated with fire suppression areas such as hillsides.

Another type of CFD is one that is created to pay for bonded indebtedness. This bonded indebtedness was created to build the necessary back-bone infrastructure of the community. When the district is created, bonds are issued and the proceeds are used to build roads, storm drain systems, sewers, and parks. These districts are commonly referred to as Mello/Roos Districts. Bonds issued by these districts can be in the ten of millions of dollars and are usually issued for a 30 year time period. Properties in the district are assessed an annual share of the debt service cost which shows up on your property tax bill each year. It is not uncommon for these districts to add nearly another 1% to the property tax bill. When the bonds are paid off, the assessment to the property owner also goes away.

Other common assessments to watch for on property tax bills are water bonds, school bonds, and park bonds. All of these bonds are typically based upon a percentage of the assessed value of the house and must be paid back over time. These bonds can be added to a property tax bill anytime that residents and/or property owners of a community vote to support such a bond measure.

As you can see, it is a complicated answer to a simple question. If you ever need additional information about the assessments or costs on your tax bill please feel free to contact the Finance Department here at City Hall and they would be happy to spend the time necessary to help you understand the specific conditions for your property.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Special Events Support The Community

Community Member Question:

In a blog the Mayor was asked why the city is having some of the events it has with the budget being tight? The Mayor had replied that in the future it would be something that may have to be looked at. My question is, “With the budget being strained in this economy, why does the city have public events that use needed funds?”

City Manager Response:

Thank you for the question. You are correct that the economy has strained the City of Fontana budget and the Mayor and City Council have directed staff to look at ways at reducing expenditures. In light of this direction, the City has cut 40 full-time positions and reduced in excess of $1.5 million from its current operating budget, beyond those reductions in staffing costs. These cuts have been made across all areas of the City, including the budget for special events.

Each and every special event was carefully scrutinized in putting together this year’s operating budget. This included the elimination of some of the community-wide special events. Despite those reductions to balance the budget, the City has left money in the budget to continue some of the city-wide special events as a service to the community of Fontana. While various special events will continue to take place, such as the Festival of Winter and the Christmas Parade, they will be taking place at reduced costs. The budget for these two special events has been cut by approximately $90,000 this year.

The City of Fontana, even with a downturn in the economy, still has a General Fund budget of approximately $80 million. With this money, the City attempts to provide a balance of services to the community which includes public safety, parks maintenance, graffiti removal, recreation programs, road maintenance, children’s programming, library services, special events, etc. The key to having a successful community is to provide a “balanced” level of services for the entire community in addition to creating a “balanced” budget.

As a City, we have a commitment to providing quality services and programs, especially during these tough economic times. This includes recreation and entertainment that many families may have had to cut from their personal budgets due to the effects of the down economy. Special events are free or low cost to the community, providing families with opportunities to spend quality time together, outside of their homes.

The City cannot provide all services to all people. We depend on community groups as our partners to provide a variety of programs and services to meet the needs of the community. Special events are important because they also provide an opportunity for many of the local community groups to raise funding that supports their programming efforts within Fontana. The elimination of all special events would significantly impact these groups, which would result in a compounding loss for individuals in the community that make use of the programs and services provided by these groups.

The City keeps a very close eye on the economic conditions of the community and will continue to live within its means. It is our sincere hope that the economy will continue to improve and that we will be in a position to increase services in the future to meet the needs of our growing community.

Reclaimed Water and Future Plans

Community Member Question:

Knowing that Fontana Water Company is NOT a City Of Fontana identity, but a private service provider that has expressed opposition to the city starting a plan to use reclaimed water for the use of irrigation on the city parks and schools, has the city decided to follow through on this water conservation method and what is the estimated saving to the community on a yearly basis?

City Manager Response:

Thank you for the question regarding reclaimed water. The short answer is yes, the City has plans on making use of its reclaimed water resources by putting those irrigation sources to use throughout the City of Fontana. Typically the savings related to the use of reclaimed water is between 25% and 40% of the cost of normal drinking water. These savings are most often in the areas of landscape district areas, so the savings achieved through these efforts will ultimately be passed on to the rate payers in the districts and to the school district that are served with the water.

Two projects are being worked on currently. The first project is a partnership between the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Cucamonga Valley Water District and the City of Fontana. When completed in 2010, this project will begin making use of reclaimed water to irrigate parks, medians, schools and landscape areas in and around the Village of Heritage. Construction of the backbone infrastructure system will be completed by the Inland Empire Utilities Agency. The Cucamonga Valley Water District (CVWD) will build the extension of this system into the Village of Heritage area and the City will provide a portion of its reclaimed water to CVWD for delivery.

The second of the two projects will cover the south part of Fontana. It is planned that this project and system will be developed by a partnership between the Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA), Fontana Water and the City of Fontana. This project will serve landscape areas, schools, parks and medians in the Southridge area of Fontana.

The City has developed a conceptual plan for this system that has received support from both IEUA and Fontana Water and we are currently negotiating a service agreement/contract with Fontana Water. The plan is for IEUA to build the backbone infrastructure for this system and the City will build the water delivery system and then contract with Fontana Water for the delivery of the water. Once the service agreement/contract is finalized, the City plans on moving forward with the technical design and construction of the system immediately. It is our hope to be able to build this system with grant and state funding dollars.

The City has also developed a master plan for the development of a reclaimed water system to serve the entire community. The challenge for the larger system is getting water into storage areas at elevations that can supply the needs of Fontana.

Reclaimed water is a significant resource available for the community of Fontana and the Mayor and City Council plan on taking whatever steps necessary to take full advantage of this resource.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Throwing Rocks" vs "Fixing Windows"

A lesson we all learned growing up is that it is a lot easier to break something than it is to make something. I am sure we have all had the experience of either intentionally or unintentionally doing damage to something only to regret those actions later on, wishing we could take back that moment of frustration that we acted on.

Despite this common experience for all of us, I am continually amazed to see people so anxious to tear down the activities of local communities by “throwing rocks” from what they believe to be a place of safety. This can happen through the anonymity of the blogosphere, through uninformed letters to the editor, through newspapers articles that fail to do balanced reporting, and the like.

I have worked in local government for nearly a quarter of a century. During that time I have had the opportunity to have been part of a number of successes and failures. I have received both constructive and destructive criticism, and I have worked with people who have been either supportive or frustrated. I have learned a number of lessons over the years, some of which, I will comment on here.

Lesson One: Throwing rocks is far less rewarding than fixing windows. Anyone can be a critic, but few people take the time and effort to step up and make a difference in their community. I remember a City Council candidate running for election several years ago that I will call “Betty”, not the candidates real name. Betty was set to be elected by the community and elected to use a “rock throwing” strategy throughout her campaign. I sat down with Betty at one point and suggested to her that she would be more successful if she could find things in the City to support and stand behind, in addition to wanting to make changes. Betty could not bring herself to do it; she only wanted to be a rock thrower. She continued to try to tear everything down, and in my opinion became viewed as standing for nothing. Betty lost the election by a large margin because she had no interest in “fixing windows." My advice is to not tell people what’s wrong unless you are equally willing to work at making the community better.

Lesson Two: Things are never as good or as bad as you think they are going to be. People often fall into the trap of thinking that one candidate, one vote, one change, or one program, etc. is going to forever define the future of an organization. I have found this to be untrue. Certainly there are both good and bad changes that take place. When good things happen, there is still the work needed to build on that item or it will not achieve its full potential. When bad things happen, there is still an opportunity to look for ways to turn failure into success for the common good of the community. You often see this played out in elections. People think “when my person gets in everything is going to change.” The truth is that issues are very complicated and there is seldom a one-size-fits-all kind of approach. Becoming entrenched in political rhetoric only makes solutions more difficult. We must all work together to get real improvements made. I suspect that both our State’s Governor and Country’s President would be the first to say, “amen” to that.

Lesson Three: Problems should be viewed as opportunities for new success. Set backs are a part of life. It is our reaction to those set backs that define the make-up of our character. I recall a time, several years ago, when I developed a strategy for a road funding/construction project that I believed was important to the community’s success. I took the item to the City Council for approval, thinking that I had worked out all the issues and expected to be received with praise and accolades. What I received instead was opposition and frustration. I could have taken the response and sulked about it and moved on to something else. Instead, I listened to the comments from the City Council, expanded the scope of the project, and repackaged the idea with a long-term city-wide strategy. When I resubmitted the idea to the City Council it was met with glowing support and became one of the lynch pins for success in Fontana. My advice to all is to look for the opportunities in everything that happens. You will be surprised by what is possible when you maintain a positive attitude.

Lesson Four: Give credit for success and take responsibility for mistakes. We have a simple management approach in the City of Fontana. It is each employee’s job to make their boss successful. It is my job to make the Mayor and City Council successful. It is the department head’s job to make me successful and it is the mid-manager’s job to make the department head successful. It is one of the truly amazing things to see. When you focus on giving the credit away, the organization flourishes and everyone wants to be part of the success.

So my advice is:

1. Support what you can and be willing to be a part of it.
2. Don’t be carried away with unrealistic expectations.
3. Accept new challenges as opportunities for success.
4. Let those around you accept credit for good work.