Chantal M. Lovell, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/01/2011 07:33:51 PM PST

REDLANDS – The city soon will begin what leaders admitted will be an arduous and painful, but much-needed, task.

With support of the City Council, Councilman Bob Gardner will work in the coming week with city staff and City Manager N. Enrique Martinez to develop a process by which the city will approach budgeting.

Staff and the council will simultaneously begin prioritizing the services of each city department to create a list that will serve as a frame of reference during future budget discussions.

Gardner said establishing a budget process is the foundation from which priorities can be set.

“In looking toward the budget process, I think it’s very important to have budget and finance policies,” Gardner said. “Items like maintaining a strong and solid revenue base, diversifying our revenue sources, how we handle and pursue grants, how we assess our programs, be open to considering every program during the budgeting process.

“All these are guidelines that I think are very important to agree to ahead of time before we get into the budget process,” Gardner said. “That really is the first step, to establish these policies.”

Gardner said he hopes to bring a proposal back to the council at the next meeting on Feb. 15.

Foster based his priority recommendation on the model used by the Northern California city of Roseville, which divides all services into three categories: core services, important services and value-added services.

Foster said the core category includes services the city must provide – those that are essential. The important services are those that expand or enhance the city’s ability to provide the core services. The value-added services are those that are discretionary and should be provided when funds allow.

“I believe (this) is an essential step in working through the very, very difficult budget process ahead,” Foster said. “I don’t deny the fact that I feel this would be a very difficult task to undertake and we will not be particularly popular with everybody in the community who will participate in this process through open session.”

Foster said that as time-consuming and complex prioritizing may be, he believes Redlands has no other choice.

“I don’t think we’re at a point where we can do anything else,” Foster said. “This community is at a crossroads and we are not going to have the resources moving forward into the next budget year to provide the same level of services we provide today. We’re going to have to figure out together how we solve this problem. What are our priorities as a community going to be?”

Martinez said the police and fire departments and the library began roughly a year ago to look at creating a priority list based on a model employed in Austin, Texas, which also groups services into three categories.

Police Chief Jim Bueermann said they found that public input is integral in the process.

“I can tell you what I believe to be the core services of the Police Department,” Bueermann said. “Inherent in that, you’re going to get some of my biases. For example, if somebody says, `What’s a very important thing for the patrol officers to do?’ Somebody may say, `In non-emergent situations, the most important thing is for (officers) to get to my house quickly.’

“I will tell you that what, in my humble opinion, is most important once we get there is to solve the problem.”

Bueermann said that when the departments began prioritizing, they hit a wall without public input and need to know what taxpayers want to help formulate priorities.

A.K. Smiley Public Library Director Larry Burgess said departments also need to know what the council wants from them.

“Internally we could prioritize but every time we started this the raven on our shoulder always was, `What is the council’s ultimate priority?”‘ Burgess said. “With your establishing the structure that you have and with your internal (budget) committee, maybe that can have a voice to help guide these kinds of decisions.”

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