City of Chico Budget Future

We're no longer 'in the red', but that doesn't mean the city's going on a spending spree.

Posted: Jan 30, 2018 7:55 PM
Updated: Jan 30, 2018 7:55 PM

For the first time in years the city of Chico is no longer facing a major budget deficit - but, what do we have to give up to keep it that way?

"I see a lot of bodies laying on the street, you drive by central park and see the same thing - I don't know if I could bring my grandchild here," said Chico resident Jim Bondan.

"The roads are terrible out here, potholes, I hit one and busted my tire. The police are doing a really good job but they're undermanned, and so are firemen, what's going to happen if we have a fire?" said resident Bob Belcher.

Local residents will tell you - there's room to grow when it comes to quality of life in Chico. When city manager Mark Orme came on in 2013, there was a 14 million dollar hole in the budget.

"They were living in a false reality as it deals with finance in the city," said Orme.

In the past few years, the city's used reserves to pay off about 7 million dollars of debt.

We're no longer 'in the red', but that doesn't mean the city's going on a spending spree.

"Even if we have a balanced budget, we still don't have the amount of reserves to get us through those rainy days," said Orme.

The goal is to build back a 13 million dollar emergency reserve for a failing road, bridge, or the other unpredictable and major expense on city leaders' minds: the rising cost of pensions.

"Pensions (are) the big elephant in the room - it's something that none of the employees here created but it's grown to a point where it's unsustainable in its current state," said Orme.

But many residents say this conservative approach takes a toll on public safety.

"We have to look at quality of life issues - there's a lot of money going out for pensions and I'm concerned about our basic services at the city being jeopardized," said Bondan. "I was kind of alarmed to hear about the fire department - there's only 14 active firemen!"

"When you have a certain amount of resources to work with, we're not going to spend more than we receive - you're not going to see a dramatic increase in any area," said Orme.

So if the city's unwilling to sacrifice the balanced budget to address these concerns, it just might become the responsibility of local residents.

"Maybe this is an opportunity for the community to choose to invest in key community priorities - not just a general sales tax increase that would go to whatever, but something that is specifically designated for community priorities," said Katie Simmons, CEO of the Chico Chamber of Commerce.

But is this fair to ask? And will people trust in a safety tax?

"A lot of times what happens is you pay money for something to happen, they take it from A and use it to go pay B," said Belcher.

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