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Election Watch: City of Compton

The city of Compton will hold primary elections on Tuesday, April 18th.  The top two vote getters will head to the General Election June 6th.  2 Urban Girls sent out a call for candidates to submit how they will work to increase the city’s revenue after reviewing the city budget.  Third district candidate Chris Petit has submitted his answers.  Thoughts?

REVENUE STRATEGIES: COMPTON CALIFORNIA

What shall we do about revenue?  This is a question that is asked often, especially of new candidates for office.  Former Speaker of the California Assembly Jesse Unruh, famously said that money is the mother’s milk of politics.  Not only was he speaking of the need for money in campaigning, but was also referring to the influence of money in governance.  And he was right.  Whether you’re installing a drinking fountain or fixing a pothole, you need money.

Sad truth is that we have a different basic economy than we had even 30 years ago.  The answer to increasing the city coffers used to be as easy as opening an auto mall or a casino.  Those models no longer fit.  Remember how the lottery was supposed to give so much money to schools?  Not only is that money diluted by the sheer number of school districts in California, it’s also highly restricted and categorized.  That money buys more books but not more teachers.  It is also obvious that increasing taxes while decreasing city services is not only bad civics, it’s a recipe for revolt. And that’s where we find Compton.

There are two things that I always consider when answering this question.  The first is, increasing revenues without a corresponding decrease in expenses does not provide any benefit.  Government has as much a tendency to live above its means as any household.  Simply increasing revenues alone will never solve the problem.  Second, is that while revenue is crucial, we also have to ask if money answers the problem we are trying to solve.  In other words could the problem be solved by more volunteerism by citizens?  Could the problem be solved through private partnership and contributions?  Are the financial shortfalls caused by mismanagement, overspending and bad priorities; rectified by more stringent controls?

Whatever the case I’m confident that the answer is to first review the current financial plan/budget, uncover the discrepancies at their source and then stabilize and reinvigorate the bottom line based on that knowledge.  It works something like this.

  1. Produce a Comprehensive Audit

Money is neither made or lost it simply changes hands (Wall Street 1987).  Compton’s current crisis involves $3 million that was taken over the course of several years.  Money that no one missed that whole time.  At $1 million dollars per mile, that money could have paved 3 miles of a major thoroughfare.  At 11.73 blocks per mile, this money could have paved 35.19 homeowner streets.  But no one missed the money.

Auditing is a discovery process that tends to either uncover abuse and poor management or discovers money that has not been accounted for.  The missing $3 million was sitting somewhere and stronger financial controls would have uncovered it before it made it out of the general fund.  Strong audits are a potential source of revenue.

  1. Review Current Fee, Fine and Collection Schedules

These items already make up 20% of the revenue for most American cities, which in most case result in an increase of $1 million for every 1% of growth in fees.  The current budget indicates that Compton is not charging enough.  Furthermore the frustration of dealing with the confusing network of requirements to obtain necessary permits, encourages people to give up and/or risk opening a business without 100% fee compliance.

At the very least we should discover the prevailing rate schedules for comparable sized cities (with a premium because for better or worse Compton has name value) and set new rates.  If we are more than 3% out of average, why not increase the rate a set percentage every year until we are at the prevailing rates.  This would give businesses some security about their fixed costs and encourage them establish firms while rates are still at their lowest.

  1. Prime the City for Investment, and attract the Right Type of Investment

We have to think bigger.  As a transportation hub in the center of 15 million potential customers, there is no reason that great companies wouldn’t want to locate in Compton.  But we have to take the increase in revenue and invest in infrastructure and education.  The city of Carson sits between 4 freeways as well, and most companies wouldn’t hesitate to take their business 5 miles south if it meant better roads, a safer environment and better educated workforce.

We need to think less “Dollar Store” and more “Electric Car Company”.  Internet, Pharmaceuticals, Software and Green energy companies should be the new normal in Compton.  But we shouldn’t just want “Electric Car Company” to build car frames here, we should want the battery factory and metal stamping plant too.  The business to business sales are exempt/non-taxable and would not generate sales tax revenue on their own; but when a completed electric car leaves Compton at full price the city would reap the benefit.  So a major “Electric Car Company” could potentially attract 2 more companies to support it, bringing jobs and investment.  This type of organic job growth, employs our citizens and allows them to buy houses and shop local.

In short this type of growth has to be prioritized as a long term prospect and not just a quick fix.

In terms of navigating the politics of bringing my colleagues along, I’d have to find out what their priorities are within their District and then for the greater city.  The truth is that everyone needs a win.  I’d first make sure we agreed on the essentials of what’s needed; and then move to how the process would work and how the team could share credit.  Basically divide the job into 4 pieces and let everyone run with their own footballs as long as everyone met at the goal line and scored for the citizens and the city!

Chris Petit – Candidate for City Council 3rd District.


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