Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Suisun expects year-end surplus

From Daily Republic // March 4
By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY – Suisun City is expected to climb out the its slough of red ink and into the black by June, according to a mid-year budget report that predicted the city will end the fiscal year with a surplus of almost $300,000.

That’s a big changem when the City Council first passed the budget – it included a deficit of $200,000.

The estimated $276,000 surplus is a conservative estimate, City Manager Suzanne Bragdon said. The council will discuss the positive report Tuesday.

Suisun City’s leaders have struggled for several years with a budget deficit despite a series of cuts to city workers and city services.

The city’s reserves are also expected to jump from $3.1 million to an estimated $3.7 million thanks to the recent sale of city property located on Twin Sisters.

Bragdon wants the council to consider several ideas for the upcoming 2006-07 budget, which include:

· Improving city income through new revenues and finding more way to cut costs.
· Streamlining how the city reviews and grants permits to encourage new commercial and residential developments.
· Retolling how much work city staff is expected to do, an issue employees raised after the city’s workforce was cut 15 percent during the past few years while workloads continued to rise.
· Changing city fees such as the development impact fees and those charges to residents using city services so the money better covers the cost of offering certain city services.
· Cracking down on business license enforcement because fewer than half the city’s businesses have licenses, the report said. Such a crackdown could bring in $200,000, Bragdon said.

City Council to honor top cops

From Daily Republic // March 4, 2006
Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - The best of Suisun City's law enforcement will be honored Tuesday when the city council recognizes Officer Andrew White and Reserve Officer Michael Urlaub.

Earlier this year, Police Chief Ron Forsythe announced White as the 2005 Officer of the Year and Urlaub as Reserve Officer of the Year. Communications Technician Amber Kent was named 2005 Dispatcher of the Year.

White was described as "a prime example of the enthusiasm and capabilities of our young police officers," by Forsythe, who said White was one of the department's top patrol officers.

White is also heavily involved with the department's community-oriented policing project, where he has organized meetings with residents in the Cedar Glen area.

Forsythe lauded Urlaub as "one of only two reserves in the department's history to be released for solo patrol work in the community."

Urlaub has also aggressively sought out and paid for an impressive range of training that ranged from traffic collision investigation to digital crimes investigation.

He is also a member of the countywide Driving Under the Influence enforcement team, assists the department's major crimes unit and works with the boat unit.

The two men will be honored at 7 p.m. Tuesday when the city council meets in the city council chamber at 701 Civic Center Blvd.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at ithompson@dailyrepublic.net.

City to study what businesses to bring to Suisun

From Daily Republic // March 4, 2006
Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - The Suisun City Council is expected to OK a study Tuesday to figure out what kinds of retail businesses will want to locate in Suisun City.

This is the latest step in City Hall's campaign to re-energize the city's business recruitment program. The program was jump-started last year after the city council vowed to raise sales tax revenue.

City Manager Suzanne Bragdon and interim Redevelopment Agency Director Al da Silva want to hire the Braxton Company to put together a study laying out which retailers would most likely be interested in locating their businesses in Suisun City.

"We are trying to recruit more retail to Suisun City," da Silva said. "One, to increase the shopping opportunities in Suisun and, two, to increase our sales tax. It is no secret that Suisun needs a strong increase in its sales tax."

At present, Suisun City sales tax revenue is one-third that of similar-sized cities.

That lack of revenue has forced the city to cut back spending with measures that include closing City Hall one day of the week and not granting employee salary increases.Da Silva stated the study will allow Suisun City to figure out which types of retail businesses the city has the best chance to attract and how best to court them.

"This will allow us to knock on more doors," da Silva said.

The Redevelopment Agency and Bragdon has taken their sales pitch for bringing business to Suisun City to several trade shows last year "and we are going to do that again this year," da Silva said.

City Hall hopes to create a list of businesses that are likely to move here.

"We don't have the leads yet to generate a list, but these things take time," da Silva said.
The Suisun City Council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Suisun City Council chamber at 701 Civic Center Blvd.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at ithompson@dailyrepublic.net.

Friday, March 3, 2006

You got a permit with that?

From Daily Republic // March 2, 2006
By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - Suisun City Building Inspector Kevin Moirano wrapped up his inspection of the electrical system for a nearly finished patio covering, then pointed across the street at a similar addition in a neighbor's yard.

"They probably don't have a permit for that," said Moirano, adding the homeowner probably didn't know better.

It is a common problem that Moirano and other city building inspectors face. With a rising tide of people doing their own home improvements, many are not getting permits.

"If we see them while they are building, we send them a letter saying they should come down to City Hall with their plans," Moirano said.

More than half of the inspections Moirano does in Suisun City are home improvements, and half of those are improvements that the homeowners do without contractors.

"Homeowners are often not aware what they need permits for," said Suisun City Building Inspector Linda Young. "Unless the contractor lets them know, they don't realize they need a permit. A lot of times they are surprised."

The most-often overlooked improvements when it comes to permits include covered patios, lawn sprinkler systems and ponds (if they involve electrical work).

"Anything that involves cutting into your water lines, anything involving plumbing or electricity," Fairfield Building Inspector Wayne Weimer said of a good rule of thumb for what requires a city permit.

Fairfield requires that builders of new houses post a notice with a general listing of every possible home improvement from room additions to water softeners that requires a city permit.
"We ask that all the buildings post this in their garage," Weimer said.

The lack of a permit can come back to haunt the homeowner later.

"If you make an improvement without getting a permit and you damage your house, you are liable for it and the insurance companies won't pay out," Young said.

For example, if the water heater doesn't have a permit and it falls and the released gas damages your home, insurance companies could consider it the homeowner's fault and decline to cover the loss. Whether that will happen will depend on the insurance company.

Moirano remembers one house that burned to the ground after a grass fire swept in through the covered patio that was also used to store firewood.

"They (the homeowners) had a long fight with the insurance company," Moirano said. "Afterward, everything he did on his new house, he got a permit for."

Homeowners can also be harmed when they try to sell a house and the real estate agent selling the home finds out that some of the house's improvements don't have a permit, Young said.

"We want to make sure the improvements are safe," Weimer said.

A patio cover not built right can collapse. An incorrectly installed water heater can leak gas or get ruptured in an earthquake. Breaks in poorly installed plumbing can contaminate the home's water supply.

If you don't have records of any permits for your improvements, the seller will need to call the city to set up a special inspection, which may require the improvement be brought up to building codes that have changed since the improvement was first put in.

State law requires a building inspector to examine a completed project within 48 hours.

Fairfield's inspectors try to get to the project within 24 hours, Weimer said.

If a contractor does the work, he is required to get the permits and call for the inspections. But it's the homeowner who is ultimately responsible, Weimer said.

Fairfield or Suisun City could hit homeowners with double fines for people who decide to get a permit long after they made the improvement, but neither city does that.

"We work with the people," Moirano said of getting them to have their work inspected and permitted, stressing that the improvement should be done safely.

"We want make sure it's done right and done safely," Weimer said.

The best advice on whether an improvement needs a permit?

"Just call us. We can tell them," Weimer said. "Read up on the requirements. Check with the building department. When working with a contractor, get a receipt for the permit and it should be kept on site."

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at ithompson@dailyrepublic.net.

Common home improvements that require permits:
  • room additions
  • covered patios
  • heating and air conditioning
  • swimming pools
  • any and all electrical work
  • any and all plumbing work
  • retaining walls
  • lawn sprinkler systems
  • reroofs of buildings
  • solar panels and spas
  • water softeners
  • masonry block fences
  • decks more than 30 inches in height
  • sewer replacements

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Suisun City employees do more with less

Letter to the Daily Republic Editor // March 1, 2006

What vision comes to mind when you think of government employees? I'll bet it's not a flattering one. Let me shatter some of your perceptions in the mighty little city of Suisun City. I had the privilege of working side by side with these devoted civil servants for 10 weeks and was amazed at the work ethic and dedication to their jobs.

In general, Suisun City has to try harder in everything it does. It is over-shadowed by big and bustling neighbors of Fairfield and Vacaville where their coffers are spilling over with sales tax revenue. Lacking this, Suisun City makes do with it's limited resources by the sheer perseverance and commitment of city employees. These people are the underdogs that toil away without much fanfare and recognition, but manage to come out on top. A good example of this is the handling of the recent New Year's Eve storms. The tireless Public Works employees of Suisun were out there in the storm, clearing storm drains, flood channels and preventing major disasters that struck its bigger neighbors.

With this underdog tenacity, the employees serving the City of Suisun, work for a higher purpose than money; they haven't had a COLA increased in over 3 years and their salary schedules are significantly lower than that of the surrounding cities. Definitely, they deserve to be paid fairly and this may happen as Suzanne Bragdon has taken the reins of city management with her team of Assistant City Manager, Ron Anderson and Community Development Director, Jake Raper.

Hence, through my first hand experience in working with each member of the city staff, from Public Works, to Engineering, Finance and Administration, the residents of Suisun can be assured that the City is working diligently on their behalf to build a better city and add to their quality of life. With the efforts of these faithful employees, Suisun City will one day be recognized for what it is; a jewel of a small city, tucked away on a vibrant waterfront, in the heart of Solano County.

Thus, the next time you think of "government employees," I hope what I've shared may give you that flattering perception the employees of Suisun City deserve.

Jeffrey Bertany