Look past the bankruptcy and you’ll see a city desperate for a future. San Bernardino’s any-goes-approach to its long-term emergence from bankruptcy would give the appearance of a cleaner-slate form of government.
Assuming the city uses its July 9 report titled “Budgetary Analysis and Recommendations for Budget Stabilization” as its roadmap for future operations, every aspect of the city’s structure is likely to change, because today nearly every aspect of the city’s structure is flawed.
One recommendation alone calls for merging the Information Technology, Human Resources, Risk Management, and Finance Departments into a new Administrative Services Department. Parks and Recreation would be merged with Library Services to create the Community Services Department.
In addition to consolidations, contracting, outsourcing, and regionalization are all on the table. One of the areas being targeted most for this sort of reorganization is the city’s public safety services. Because public safety expenses account for 78 percent of all general fund expenditures, public safety offers the greatest savings.
Currently, the city has its own animal services department. That could disappear; replaced by a contract with the County that already provides these services to several of the area’s cities. Fire services are also facing a potential regionalization.
According to the Budget Stabilization plan, “Fire departments across the country are moving towards a regionalized approach to providing fire protection and emergency medical services to reduce costs to individual cities and to improve fire service delivery.”
Regionalization in San Bernardino could be either a complete consolidation – much like is seen in Orange County Fire Authority where a single agency provides services to multiple cities – or partial, where cities share specific services based upon contractual agreements. Under a partial consolidation, multiple agencies could share fire dispatch, training, equipment, and maintenance.
According to the report, the police department could reallocate staffing responsibilities to include a greater number of retired police officers. By bringing in former officers to handle training, it could free-up sworn officers to spend more time policing the streets or handling cases, instead of conducting training. That concept is called the “civilianization of police training.”
The report also called for San Bernardino to attempt to contract its services to neighboring cities. Under that model, multiple cities could help defray the overhead and staff costs associated with the police department.
While the future stabilization of the city’s budget depends upon adjusting its expenses, numerous recommendations are made as to how the city’s revenues can be enhanced.
One of the easiest ways to address revenues is to adjust fees. Currently, the city estimates it loses thousands of dollars each year on responding to false alarms. While there is a fee associated with false-alarm calls, it is believed to be insufficient to cover all costs, including police time, administrative time, maintenance, and fuel. These fees could be increased.
Similarly, the city charges a voluntary subscription for paramedic services. This subscription offers residents the opportunity to pay a once-per-year flat fee for paramedic services. If the paramedics render assistance to a residence without the subscription, they are charged a fee. This subscription nets the county a total of about $9,600 per year and the fees net about $360,000. By increasing participation in the subscription, the city hopes to increase its market penetration to about 50 percent of all households. That would bring total receipts from the program to more than $1 million.
The report also recommends increasing utility franchise fees.
Taxes could also provide additional revenue to the city, but voters may be reluctant to approve more money for a city in bankruptcy. However, by approving a “9-1-1 Communication Tax” for residential and business landlines, the city could raise an additional $6.7 million per year.
A 1 percent increase in the transient occupancy tax could bring in an extra $250,000. Increasing various utility taxes would boost revenues by more than $3 million per year.