Foster City deficit tops priority list in City Council election

Dealing with Foster City’s budget deficit is the top campaign issue for the six candidates running in November for two open seats on the City Council.

The $2.8 million shortfall is cutting into reserves and threatening to decimate public services. Already, the city has rolled out pension cutbacks for new police and fire hires, implemented citywide wage and hiring freezes, merged its fire department with San Mateo’s and approved a November ballot measure that would hike the hotel tax.

A number of the candidates say the egg that now needs cracking is employee compensation.

Nearly 80 percent of the city’s 2011 budget will go to compensate city employees, said Art Kiesel, the only incumbent in the race.

“It’s pretty obvious where we’re going to have to attack,” he said.

The current City Council has made “some small changes without ever addressing the bigger elements” of the budget, said Bill Schwarz, a semi-retired accountant and self-described “political neophyte” who also is running.

While the city spends an average of $151,000 a year on each employee, the average Foster City resident makes just $41,000, said Schwarz, who called those numbers “a long way apart.”

Patrick Sullivan, a longtime resident who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2001, said he would do “whatever it takes” to balance the budget.

“We have to take it item by item. A 10 percent cut across the board could probably save us on the deficit issue,” said Sullivan, who also hopes to reduce water and energy costs on city properties.

If elected, Steve Okamoto would look for solutions beyond simply “cutting, cutting, cutting.”

“In the long term, those cuts are going to hurt the vibrancy we experience here in Foster City,” said Okamoto, who’s nearing retirement from the American Cancer Society.

More sharing services and public-private partnerships could raise funds, as could smart development of the city’s 15-acre Village Square site, he said.

Jennifer Minkey-Selvitella said Foster City simply must find ways to raise more money.

“We have to look at ways to generate more revenues so our amenities are not jeopardized and our property values are not adversely affected,” said Minkey-Selvitella, a Foster City native and State Farm insurance agent.

Herb Perez is the 1992 Olympic gold medalist in taekwondo, but isn’t just running as “some Olympic guy.” Among his plans are greater consolidation of police and fire departments, further adjustments to retirement plans for city employees, and revenue generation through festivals and renting city-owned spaces.

“As long as we’re creative in revenue generation and doing new things, I think we’re fine,” said Perez.

Meet the candidates

The League of Women Voters will moderate a forum for City Council hopefuls.

When: 6:30 p.m. Sept. 26
Where: City Council Chamber, 610 Foster City Blvd., Foster City

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