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City Council forum tackles tough topics

Candidates' views differ on future development
By: Don Chaddock Telegraph Managing Editor
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Six Folsom City Council candidates squared off Saturday on issues ranging from city employee pensions to developing the area south of Highway 50. Candidate Alex Munoz didn't attend the forum. Hosted by the League of Women Voters of Sacramento County in cooperation with Sac Metro Cable TV, the forum was held at the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors chambers and aired live. It will re-air at noon every Sunday through Oct. 31. The underlying theme of the forum was experience vs. fresh perspectives. When asked about the south of 50 development plans, challenger Mike Kozlowski said the current council and city staff has been very thorough. "There has been a misunderstanding for the (development plans) and the pace of development," he said. "They've done a good job." Incumbent Andy Morin said if Folsom doesn't take control of the land through annexation, it could lose any input on eventual development. "It's all about local control," Morin said. "Any growth areas at our borders are a concern. ... We plan ahead and let market forces dictate (development)." Incumbent Steve Miklos said residents have had plenty of input on the plans. "This process has been going on for more than 20 years," Miklos said. " Development is dictated by the pace of economics." He said the planned development was voter approved. Incumbent Kerri Howell said it had to be done in a series of steps. "I served on the city planning commission and negotiating (team) with the county (regarding) annexation," Howell said. "For the time being, we need to get the annexation." Lindsey Woodward, a challenger, opposes the plans. "There are more issues you can look at ... such as open space," Woodward said. "It's an area I will try to save if I can." Woodward cited the destruction of trees and water-supply issues as major factors weighing against the development. Challenger Jaya Badiga said she believes the area will eventually be developed, with or without Folsom's interference. "It's a natural development for the border of Folsom but we should listen to the concerns of the residents," Badiga said. "If they want us to focus our efforts elsewhere, we should." County General Plan update Miklos said he believes the county should be put under the microscope. "I was the chair of (the Sacramento Area Council of Governments) when the blueprint started," he said. "I would like to see the board of supervisors go through the same level of scrutiny as (the city) did on the (south of 50 plan)." Howell said the county's efforts to update their general plan are reactionary. "I am concerned and want to see the annexation completed," she said. "The county is going through their (process). ... The county is reacting to SACOG." Woodward said he doesn't believe the south of 50 plans are in the city's best interest. "I know all about Measure W (the city's voter-approved measure to annex south of 50 and create a master plan)," he said. "If it hadn't been passed, would that 30 percent (of oak woodland) been preserved? I doubt it. Badiga said she hopes the county uses extreme caution when planning the updated. Morin said he was reluctant to criticize another governmental body who has closer knowledge of the facts. Kozlowski said it was all about "long-term planning." Balance development with historic preservation In the wake of Historic District Revitalization efforts, and the impact it has had on the merchants, the candidates offered their views on balancing historic preservation with redevelopment. Miklos said Sutter Street's redevelopment was a longtime coming. "Folsom, by design, doesn't do things quickly," he said. "(The project) was a 15-year process." Howell said the short-term pain is worth the long-term gain. "We have a great historic district," she said. "We are popular for tourists and for people to live here. ... That's a $10 million project scheduled to be completed Nov. 15." Woodward turned the conversation back to the development south of 50. "The historical aspect of Folsom is great," Woodward said. "Old Folsom is a great place. ... The area south of Highway 50 will take away from the historic district." Badiga said it's important to maintain a sense of history as a city. "It's crucial," she said. Kozlowski agreed. 'The historic nature is incredibly important to Folsom," he said. "All of us need to be students of our history." Morin said the town was fortunate to have so many historic draws. "We are lucky to have this history," he said. "We benefit (from tourism)." Restoring some services With the city's fire department "browning out" an engine company and delaying construction of a new firehouse in the Empire Ranch area, as well as cutting back the code enforcement office, what plan would the candidates offer to help restore some services. Howell said the council had foresight and made adjustments early on to prepare for the economic downturn. She said the fire department has not been affected and reaction times have held steady. "The current council was on the leading edge of the wave to (react)," she said. "We're continuing negotiations with (employee) bargaining units." Woodward said with the recently announced retirement of two public safety heads, it's the perfect time to make cuts. "The police and fire chief are both retiring," he said. "We should look at reducing the salary of (those positions before hiring)." Badiga said the city layoffs have hurt morale. "Cuts have demoralized city employee groups," she said. "We have to acknowledge this." Kozlowski said many residents question the budget cuts hitting the fire department. "Browning out of a fire engine and delay of a firehouse in Empire Ranch conflicts with what some residents believe are impacting response times," he said. Morin said the real issue is revenue. "The question is, can we fine more revenue in tough economic times?" he said. Miklos pointed to his experience as a firefighter to refute residents' claims that response times have been impacted. "We have maintained service levels for five years," he said. "We planned (for this)." Public employee pensions With regional efforts to reform public employee pensions already under way, the candidates were asked what they thought about that push. Woodward said the city should take care of its public safety personnel but couldn't say whether or not he'd support a two-tiered system. "I am willing to meet with our firefighters and police," he said. "We need to see what they want and need." Badiga said pensions are a major issue across the state. "Unfunded pensions are big issue for the state and city," she said. "How can we come to an agreement (with employees)? ... I would support a two-tiered system." Kozlowski said he didn't think a two-tiered system was fair. "There needs to be a practical way to fund pensions," he said. Morin said pensions can spell trouble for some cities, but Folsom has been proactive in heading off any catastrophes. "This is critical," Morin said. "We've aggressively (sought solutions). Beginning three years ago, health plans for all new hires were put on a 'pay as you go' plan. There is no unfunded liability. ... We reached (agreements) will all our bargaining units." Miklos said the city is already on a two-tiered system. "Unlike most cities, our pensions are funded," Miklos said. "We have a small 20 percent unfunded liability." Howell said the city has had to tighten its belt. "This downturn is the worst we've ever seen in our lifetimes," she said. "In the private sector, we've seen (layoffs) all the time. ... This is the first time it's really hit public employees. The two-tiered system only affects new employees." Contracting with other agencies To save money, would the candidates consider outsourcing some services to the county or other agencies? Badiga said that decision should be left up to the voters. "We would first need to put it out to the residents," she said. "I don't think it's something that can be made unanimously by the council. ... It needs to be thought out and well-planned." Kozlowski said he'd be open to the idea if money could be saved. "I'm pragmatic," he said. "If savings were demonstrated and proven practical (I'd consider it)." Morin said he would resist turning over services to other agencies. "Folsom has a great model as a full-service city," he said. "I would be loathe to unwind that. There may be a cheaper way to do it, but not better." Miklos said the city used to contract with the county for animal services but found it cheaper to bring that service back into Folsom. "We've actually gone the other way," Miklos said. "I prefer we keep local control at a local level." Howell said it's a quality of life issue. "We are getting better services and higher quality services than neighboring jurisdictions," Howell said. "We have the best water quality in the region." She said the city does contract out for wastewater services through the regional treatment plant. Woodward said he supports keeping local services within city control.