|MV resident Steve Magdziak|
Small Policy Changes Can Bring Big Benefits
By Steve Magdziak
With Congressional approval rating at 9% as of November 2013, it’s safe to say government is out of touch. But while most Americans agree that our Federal government has a spending problem, what many don't know is that local governments spend about as much combined as the Federal government. An example of over-spending can be seen in the “Mission Viejo Top Tier Employee Compensation” table within this article. This leads me to believe that if you knew what really went on at city hall, you might think twice about whom you elect locally, and what can be done to fix these problems.
A few policy changes could rapidly put us back on track. Some have already been implemented around the country, but here in Mission Viejo NONE have been implemented. Let’s ask current and/or future council candidates to incorporate the following ideas into their campaign platforms.
1. Rebate: If the city claims it has a surplus of monies and can afford to: fund social programs, donate money to other government agencies that collect their own taxes, fund unnecessary multimillion-dollar projects, repeatedly exceed budget limits, increase staff cost and donate your tax dollars to the pet charities of public officials, then how about returning the surplus to the residents?
If the city cannot lower our taxes, then remove franchise fees hidden in our trash bills, Cox cable bills, water bills, etc. Eliminating those fees or rebating them as a credit on your trash bill will help the local economy. (See “City Should Return Surplus to Residents in the September, 2013 CCS).
2. Civic Openness in Negotiations (“C.O.I.N.”): This has been successfully implemented in the City of Costa Mesa:
- Require city to hire an independent negotiator to negotiate employee pay raises.
- Prior to contract talks with employee association(s), perform an independent economic analysis on the fiscal impacts of each contract term, and publicize the results of the analysis 30 days prior to negotiations.
- Require council members to disclose any communications about the negotiations with representatives of the employee association(s).
- As negotiations begin, require City Council to publicly report after closed sessions any prior offers and counter offers and their fiscal impact to the taxpayer.
- Any meet-and-confer related bargaining positions received or made by either side that are no longer being considered must be disclosed.
- Prior to a City Council vote on an employee contract, require discussion at two City Council meetings (minimum) and post the proposal on the city’s website at least seven days prior to the first meeting.
3. Public Notice: Require more public notice of non-emergency council meetings. Agendas should be made available to the public 30-60 days in advance. This will allow council members to review agenda items before voting on them, and will allow the public time to write letters or inform their neighbors about city issues that impact them.
4. Make Boards Elective: Council members nominate each other to serve on outside government agency Boards. Council members may have no experience with that agency’s business, yet they make decisions that could have lasting impacts on our quality of life. By the time many of these decisions surface, those politicians are long gone and unaccountable.
5. Add Representation: The cost of raising money to campaign in large districts is cost prohibitive. As a result, many turn to big-money special interests to fund their campaigns. If elected officials are restricted to representing less than 15,000 people (preferably 10,000), the cost to campaign (mailers, etc) becomes more affordable, and will allow candidates to campaign door-to-door. A similar idea for representatives at the State level, “Neighborhood Legislature” can be found at this link: http://neighborhoodlegislature.com
6. Shorter Council Meetings: Mission Viejo council meetings often exceed four hours. If you wish to address an agenda item, you may have to wait hours to speak. Three meetings a month and eliminating non-government business such as “awards” will help to decrease the length.
These simple ideas could be implemented with the right leaders and in my estimation, could cut everyone's property tax by $800+. The problem is finding the right leaders who represent the residents, not special interests.
Contributing Editor Steve Magdziak is a resident and businessman in Mission Viejo. He can be reached at (949) 441-0499 with questions or comments.