As other cities struggle, Foster City closes in on becoming debt-free

As most cities on the Peninsula are considering layoffs and tax increases to keep from sinking into the red, Foster City’s is afloat with green.

The city of about 30,000 will be completely debt-free by 2010, according to a budget report that will be presented to the City Council today.

Even rosier, the city has about $17 million in reserves — more than 50 percent of its general fund budget, Assistant City Manager Kristi Chappelle said. On top of that, the city is spending millions on a new teen center and adding expensive artificial turf to many of its athletic fields, she said.

In comparison, the similar-sized city of Burlingame, with less than $10 million in reserves, is contending with more than $200 million in necessary infrastructure improvements after being forced to neglect them in recent belt-tightening years, City Manager Jim Nantell said.

Farther south on the Peninsula, San Carlos officials have warned their City Council it could face bankruptcy within five years unless taxes are raised or city services are reduced, City Manager Brian Moura said.

Chappelle admitted Foster City has it easier than many other cities in the county because it’s much younger — built mostly in the ’60s and ’70s — so it doesn’t have to cope with hole-ridden sewage and water lines and aging parks and buildings that other cities do.

And unlike many other San Mateo cities, Foster City doesn’t have a train line or major commercial corridors like El Camino Real, which can cause expensive safety and infrastructure problems, Mayor Pam Frisella said.

Chappelle and Frisella credit Rick Wykoff, who spent 17 years as city manager before joining the City Council in 2001, for the success.

“He’s the one who keeps us from spending too much.” Frisella said. He always reminds us that yes, we might have the money, but we may not need to spend it.”

kworth@examiner.com

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