Small Town Feel vs Big Time Deficit
It’s ironic…the very thing that many San Carlos residents have steadfastly resisted over the years — large scale development — may turn out to be the bootstrap that pulls this town out of its financial woes. For many years, San Carlos has resisted any type of large residential or retail developments for fear that it would erode the “small-town feel” that makes San Carlos a unique place to live. Certainly, it has only been in the last decade or so that big-box retailers like Best Buy and Home Depot have made any headway into San Carlos, and that’s only on the east side of El Camino. The west side still remains largely devoid of any retail chain outlets (excluding Starbucks, of course.)
But the current financial crisis in San Carlos may force us to re-think that position.
Cut Costs, or Raise Revenue
At the risk of over-simplification, those are the only two ways to erase a budget deficit. Let’s take a look at the former — cutting costs. The City of San Carlos has cut its budget each of the past 11 years, and is now at a point where it has chosen to disband its own police department to save money. A similar disintegration of our fire department is certainly right around the corner too, as soon the Belmont-San Carlos Fire JPA concludes its divorce proceeding in 2011.
But even after cannibalizing itself, the City will be lucky if it can stay in the black for any significant period of time. Note to the City Council: Despite your pipe dream that outsourcing public safety will be provide endless years of savings, the cost of these contracts will go up. Count on it. The cost of living always goes up — it never goes down. So we may very likely be right back at the same table in a few years wondering where that $2M in police savings went.
Raise revenue? If you’re talking about taxes, there are only two ways to raise revenue — increase the rate that you tax, or increase the gross tax dollars that you take in. San Carlos residents have made no mystery about their opinion of higher sales tax with the defeat of Measure U, and the Fire Parcel Tax a few years back. So if a higher tax rate isn’t the solution, the City needs to bring in more raw tax dollars.
And that’s where development comes in, whether we like it or not.
Times Have Changed
The quaint, small town model that has supported San Carlos over the past 85-ish years may not apply any longer. And San Carlos is not alone in this quandary. Virtually every other city on the Peninsula is facing the same reality. Only Colma seems to enjoy a sizable budget surplus, largely because they have lots of dead people and lots of shopping malls ;-). San Carlos won’t need to take that extreme of a measure, but look for development projects such as Wheeler Plaza, and the Transit Village to take on renewed interest with City Hall and residents alike, as the Town of San Carlos grapples to stay financially afloat in the new economy.
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