Archive » August 30, 2012
Buellton council eyeing charter status
By Jeremy Foster, Staff Writer
The city of Buellton may ask voters to back conversion to charter status in 2014 – something proponents think would give the city more say in its local affairs.
At its regular Aug. 23 meeting, the Buellton City Council received a presentation about the benefits of a proposed change from Lisa Figueroa, one of the eight members of a citizens’ advisory committee who worked on the initiative.
Although council members supported the idea of becoming a charter status, they wanted more time to review the issue before approving it for the 2014 ballot. The final draft of the proposal will be presented at the council’s Oct. 25 meeting. Switching from general law to charter status allows cities to adopt laws that differ from general state laws, with some exceptions, and gives them more autonomy from the state to meet their specific needs.
Of California’s 478 cities, 120 are charter, and they include Solvang, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Ventura and Port Hueneme. Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande are in the process of conversion, Figueroa noted. The citizens’ advisory committee has studied the issue since early 2012, and has concluded that Buellton could save money on purchasing and contracts under a charter status, which might also eliminate some costly state rules and requirements.
Committee members are Lisa, Ron Anderson, Dick Evert, Patty Armor, Doug Bristol, Brad Michel, Fred Lun and Tom Widroe.
Changing from a general law city to a charter city could give the community greater control over planning and land use, public parks, taxation and local elections. It could also make it easier for the city to pass ordinances. And it would “cost the taxpayers absolutely nothing,” Figueroa said.
Becoming a charter city would exempt the city from the state prevailing wage requirements, a move that could save the city as much as 30% on projects, such as road maintenance and repair, and water and sewer upgrades.
Prevailing wage is set by state law and must be paid to laborers on public works projects, usually increasing the cost of the project from 15 to 30%, Figueroa said. The move would make more sense in the wake of the state’s elimination of its 425 redevelopment agencies, which were required to contract using the state’s prevailing wage, Figueroa said.
Last year the city spent $1.8 million on public works projects; had the city been charter, it would have saved $360,000 based on a 20% savings, Figueroa noted. But prevailing wages doesn’t apply to materials and equipment and, if certain state or federal funds are taken, prevailing wages must be paid.
“This is where the charter benefits us most dramatically and where we could have saved a third of a million over the last year,” Figueroa said.
The charter also would allow the city to give preference to local contractors, she added.
“It may seem like a new idea, but Sacramento became charter city in 1849, one year before California became a state,” Figueroa said. “Today we have a general feeling of uncertainly, bordering on mistrust, of our state government, especially after the continuing fiasco in regard to our RDA funds.”
“The city needs to do what it can to maintain control over our future growth, and for that reason, now is the perfect time for Buellton to become a charter city,” she added.
The charter committee recommended that the mayor and vice mayor should be appointed for two years, instead of the current one-year terms that rotate among council members. Committee members believe the new structure would provide more consistency on the several committees the mayor serves on with other cities and Santa Barbara County.
Council member Ed Andrisek opposed the idea of extending the terms for mayor and vice mayor, saying that they are “titular seats that every official should have the right to ascend to. There’s no problem with the council agreeing to reseat the mayor and vice mayor, but we could prevent someone who’s serving from this benefit if they’re not re-elected.”
“Solvang went with a charter because they were really impassioned about electing a mayor,” he added. “If we’re not going to do that, I would like us to consider either electing the mayor or leaving it as we have it. We’re a town of less than 5,000. Having an election for mayor is probably better for towns 10 times our size.”
Mayor Holly Sierra, who is a member of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, contended mayors who serve longer have more clout on the committees they serve on. “Sometimes it makes a big difference if other committee members know you’re only there for a year,” she said.
City manager John Kunkel said he expects more cities to adopt charter status following a recent state Supreme Court ruling in favor of allowing charter cities to skirt the prevailing wage.
Kunkel spearheaded the proposal in March 2011, and the council gave direction to staff to form a charter city committee. The proposal was expected to go before voters in the 2012 general election, but no appointees for the committee came back.
The initiative making Buellton a charter city would require a simple majority to pass, according to City attorney Ralph Hanson.
Kunkel had told the Journal that he was police chief of Exeter when it became a charter city and saw voters shoot down a charter proposal because it gave the city manager carte blanche to hire and fire department heads, but approved it when that provision was removed. City officials plan on taking the proposal on the road so voters understand what it means exactly for the city.
Two public hearings and formal approval of the resolution for the ballot initiative are tentatively scheduled for early 2014. The first hearing would be held Feb. 14, 2014, and the second on April 24, 2014. firstname.lastname@example.org