Chico, Calif. – For many of us, living within a budget can sometimes be a challenge and that is also true when the focus is on millions of dollars and the oversight it takes to run a city.
The challenge then becomes how leaders make decisions when projected expenses outpace expected revenue. In the second of a series of segments, “Chico on the Verge?” Action News Now Morning Anchor Julia Yarbough explores that very topic.
Longtime Chico resident and business owner, Okwudili Ahiligwo describes his 22 years in the community as a positive experience in running a successful business and raising a family. But the owner of Bidwell Pharmacy says in recent years, he has seen changes with an increase in homelessness and vagrancy. He says his business has been the target of thieves several times. In years past, the security measures he now uses included cameras, alarms and security gates over doors and windows. He says it feels as if there are more people needing public safety services than what the City can provide.
With examples such as that, how can a growing city keep pace to the challenges that come with expansion?
The City of Chico shares budget information on its website. For fiscal year 2018/2019, projected budget expenses outstrip budget revenue for both years; 2-million in 2018 and approximately 2.9 million in 2019.
A Chico Chamber of Commerce Task Force recently reviewed what those numbers mean for public safety; including both police and fire and quality of roads and infrastructure. The takeaway from the review is that, “…Existing and projected City resources are considerably inadequate to fund basic public services at all levels that will increase the quality of life in Chico…”
The report overview is that revenue shortfalls could lead to area job losses and limited resources in fighting crime.
The Chico Fire Department is already feeling that budget crunch, with the department last year cutting staff and closing two stations. But at issue, is a continually growing population which translates into more structures to provide services to and more people with emergency needs.
Asked if Chico and the Department can keep up, Fire Chief Steve Standridge says it is a challenge, but one he welcomes. Recently taking the helm of the Department, Chief Standridge says his goals are to address the needs of his staff, adequately offer necessary services to the public and take creative approaches to also making strategic decisions in preparation for the next five to ten years. He says part of that includes also teaching the public more about what the Department does and how it works.
For public safety issues involving law enforcement, Chico Police Chief Michael O’Brien describes Chico as a community in which residents want to solve problems.
Those problems, says the Police Chief are different but interconnected. He cites several primary issues facing the community including homelessness, mental health, substance abuse and the crimes generated because of those social ills. He says there are no easy answers to growing problems but a budget which is not growing.
The Chief says, “You have to look at your budget, you have to look at your resources and you have to do everything you can to maximize those resources and that is what we’re trying to do.”
Chief O’Brien is trying creative approaches to finding partnership-based solutions. He points to the Retail Watch program which are efforts with police and the Chico Chamber of Commerce to educate store owners on combating shoplifting. Police actively support the efforts of Downtown business owners and the Ambassador Program. The Police Department has also reinstated a traffic unit to focus on incidents on the roadways and the Chief is restructuring existing staff to create a specialized unit to focus on ‘quality of life’ crimes, such as theft, vandalism and robbery. To address the mental health segment, Chief O’Brien points to the new partnership with Butte Behavioral Health in which two mental health counselors are staffed alongside officers.
The Chief say he believes the Chico community wants to be compassionate to those that need help but that residents do not want to be victimized.
Asked if Chico can move forward given the challenges it faces as a growing city, both the Fire Chief and Police Chief say they believe the answer is yes.
Fire Chief Standridge says he sees the current challenges as an opportunity to grow and become stronger and more efficient moving into the future.
Police Chief O’Brien says he believes the community is moving in the right direction and that with community input and strong partnerships many of the issue facing the region will be figured out. He describes Chico as being on the verge of greatness.