Thursday, June 07, 2007

Column preview

Here is a preview of my Ross Valley Reporter column submitted for next week.

Financial Sustainability in a Changing Climate: As part of an executive seminar application, I recently responded to the question, “What do you perceive to be the most important issue facing local governments, and why?” I share my response here.

The most important issue facing local governments is financial sustainability, especially in the wake of a changing global climate and the need to respond to environmental concerns. In 1978, Proposition 13 forever changed the way that cities are funded, and since then, municipalities have responded to the need to maintain services in various ways. Some have seen the “fiscalization of land use” impact the character of their communities as cities chase retail developments in order to gain sales tax revenue. Others, like the Town of Fairfax, with a limited retail base, have had to turn to parcel taxes and ballot measures as a means to augment the general fund.

The threats to our natural environment, brought about more aggressively by the consequences of climate change, will mean that more local financial resources will need to be devoted to disaster preparation and response. As first responders, cities must be prepared to react immediately to disasters such as fire and flood. Ideally, this role requires dedicated funding in order to maximize preparation and response. Like most of the Ross Valley, Fairfax sustained a flood in December 2005 that we are still recovering from. Recent research as printed in the Marin Independent Journal explained evidence that the flood conditions were likely made worse by climate change factors. Continuing to provide the same compliment of services that we currently offer to our residents - while dealing with the looming threat of more and frequent disasters as well as the need to take actions to reduce our energy footprint and hence stem the factors leading to climate change – is a tall order for cities. Maintaining financial stability in the wake of these developments is an enormous challenge.

The Town’s public facilities sustained approximately $1.5 million in damage due to the flood, and many residents and businesses were affected as well. We have worked closely with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency throughout the process, and have done our best to comply with all of their agency regulations. The outcome has been that we are in five appeals regarding our public projects, in those instances where FEMA is not approving funding for various reasons. The situation continues to be unacceptable and is devastating to the Town financially. The lessons learned are that we needed to get our State and Federal elected officials involved earlier in the process and on an ongoing basis, in order to assist us with lobbying for the monies we are owed from the disaster. Seventeen months after the disaster, we are still fighting for funding from FEMA. We understand that FEMA is understaffed, but this is a great burden on a Town that already has a very limited budget with little reserves. I can only imagine the lingering suffering of the Hurricane Katrina victims and municipalities that are having to rebuild.

Ross Valley Senior Club: The Town of San Anselmo and Fairfax have developed a special program for Ross Valley Seniors. Each month a special event is held specifically designed for people age 55 and over. Activities include organized walks, board games, special presentations, guest speakers, bocce ball, luncheons and much more. In less that one year the Ross Valley Seniors have grown to over 80 participants! All seniors are welcome to become members and enjoy meeting new people and participating in many exciting events. Annual membership is only $20. For more information, please call Dana at San Anselmo Recreation, 258-4669. The next Senior Club event will be held on Thursday, June 14 at 11 a.m. in the Fairfax Women’s Club, featuring an “Introduction to Water Color Painting” with San Francisco artist Tina Moylan. Lunch is included for current members, non-members pay $5 per event. RSVP to 258-4669.