Ryan Toussaint's platform
Goals for Solvang Community Impact
1. Stabilizing Water Rates
Yes, It Can Be Done.
When I was elected your city councilman in 2016, I promised to stabilize water rates. I went to work right away and, using the same skills I use in my business, I analyzed the City's proposal to raise water rates--by 35%! I uncovered $12 million in non-existent expenses and, after a lengthy Council meeting, my analysis caused the City to scrap the proposed increase. My analysis also stopped a proposed increase in sewer rates. Huge wins for both residents and businesses in Solvang! Follow-on analysis has led to cost reductions in procuring water and improvements in the quality of water delivered to our homes.
Now it's time to take the next steps.
We can do more:
#1: Strong economic planning, logistics and technological advancements: We can collect and use data analytics to drive operational efficiencies that enable us to deliver higher quality water at lower rates.
#2: Strategic Partnerships and a Long Term Vision: The council needs to focus on working closely with neighboring governmental bodies and reducing bureaucratic overhead (that we all pay for) in order to focus on reduced cost, higher quality of services and a sustainable future.
#3: Dedicate a portion of our tourism tax revenues towards capital improvements for Water and Waste Water infrastructure. This helps offset the impact tourism has on our daily lives and provides a measurable benefit to the citizens of Solvang.
“My fixed income and social security can't keep up with Solvang Water Rates. How can I afford to live here? My kids couldn't.”
— Senior Resident Solvang
2. Reduce Traffic Congestion
The traffic situation in Solvang has unquestionably become a real problem for the residents and deters locals from wanting to go to downtown Solvang (which is an opportunity loss for our local businesses). The worse this situation becomes the more frustrated drivers (local or not) begin using every residential road and neighborhood as a bypass creating a real safety & tranquility issue for the residents, schools and pedestrians. Furthermore, at what point does it deter tourism which is the largest portion of our economy and over 60% of our revenue stream?
We certainly have our geographical challenges being the city sitting between Buellton and Santa Ynez (or the 101 and the 154). Over the years prior City Councils have conditioned the public into thinking there’s nothing that can be done about the situation.
This is a Valley Wide problem and there are concrete ways to mitigate traffic without bureaucratic finger pointing. This doesn’t get anything done.
We can do better… Just some ideas:
This is a Valley wide problem and we need to start encouraging our local officials to start working together with shared strategic planning and vision for the future. This will lead to a higher quality of life not only in Solvang but in the Santa Ynez Valley.
#1 Intergovernmental relations is key with all of the different government agencies that we have in the Santa Ynez Valley to get anything done. If we work closer together and unify on the right boards such as SBCAG (sbcag.org) we can get more done. We need to focus on Regional Solutions which is also part of Strategic Partnerships.
#2 Potential bypasses, traffic flow studies and pedestrian alternatives all need to be evaluated and considered. The right changes can result in increased traffic efficiency, better downtown walking experience and yield many benefits to our local economy. Engineering studies can point out more efficient timing, lights and street lanes while increasing safety.
#3 There are many other potential solutions that could be considered for the Mission Drive corridor. One popular belief is that the City of Solvang has no control over Hwy 246 and that it is all up to Caltrans. This is actually not true, the City could take control over Hwy 246 within its limits but a cost benefit analysis would have to be performed on the Mission Drive corridor before making decisions like that.
3. Financial Responsibility
In a small City like Solvang politicians often forget they are spending other people’s money. Did you know that last year the City gave away more money in Grants than it collected in property taxes? This leads to expenses greatly exceeding revenues and ultimately your utility bills such as Water & Sewer or other taxes to accelerate at a compounded rate. Infrastructure priorities are deferred until there is a crisis such as the current situation with our Waste Water Treatment Plant. We need to focus our priorities on increasing quality of life for the residents and creating a sustainable future where money isn’t thrown out the door to buy votes using your tax dollars.
In my budget analysis I exposed rapidly accelerating cost centers that required immediate council action. I led the council in beginning to address rapidly accelerating cost centers such as: the City’s unfunded pension liabilities, unsustainable pay increases, upcoming costly unfunded state mandates as well as significantly rising costs across all services contracted from the County.
Currently there is no plan or strategy at the council level to deal with any of these situations. Practices such as these can leave future councils with no option but to significantly raise your tax and utility bills.
Solvang is lacking economic diversification and many of the businesses felt a hard impact during the fire and mudslides last year due to our tourism dependency. This is a new world and many are still using the model that worked in the 60's and 70's.
The new cloud economy driven by e-commerce and smart city, high tech, light industrial parks highly compliment Solvang’s traditional hotel and restaurant businesses. Specifically, Solvang can create a clean tech zone for high value software engineering and development that in turn supports high paying jobs and sales of high margin products and services. If we diversify, let’s do it smart, and let’s do it right while complimenting our existing economy.
Sustainability & Balanced Budget
Today, the council needs to begin taking a longer-term approach to finances and goals in order to prevent further taxation on the citizens it serves.
#1: Reconciled Balanced and Strategic Budget - The City of Solvang needs to change its methodology from reactive based 1 year unbalanced budgets to long-range vision for the future and it’s goals.
#2: Financial forecasting complete with fund balance projections in the three primary Enterprise funds: General Fund, Water Fund and Sewer Fund.
#3: Begin transitioning to minimum of two or three year budgets so the council can focus on longer term goals, structural cost control and revenue/ expense trends. Zero-Based Budgeting would also help reduce unnecessary cost as well.
#4: Budget cost projections need to include 3, 5 and 10 year scenarios and highlight the corrosive effects of compounding.
#5: Stress Testing must be done to insulate the City against the effects of a protracted economic recession. Specifically, it is very difficult to cut structural expenses in the middle of a crisis.
#6: Stop unsustainable pay increases. You simply can't afford the taxes to pay for them. They also compound the unfunded pension liability problems and put people at risk of losing their retirement benefits. Consider limiting increases to annual pay increases and offer employee incentives to those who choose to go above and beyond to help carry out Council goals through innovative ideas, certifications and education.
7# Economic Development group should continue to meet. We need to watch the numbers and the trends. Explore what will fit and compliment the existing business community. Many are still using the model that worked in the 60's and 70's and need help transiting and growing their businesses in today tech-driven economy. Today, people travel and spend money on experiences and customer service.
4. Strategic Partnerships
Over time in the Santa Ynez Valley different governmental bodies have been created to serve the Santa Ynez Valley’s cities, businesses and residents.
Cities like Solvang and Buellton incorporated to serve their constituencies better. The Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District (ID#1) was formed to serve the communities of Santa Ynez, Los Olivos and Ballard. The Santa Ynez Community Services District was formed to serve the needs of waste water treatment for Santa Ynez. Los Olivos recently formed a new district for waste water treatment. All of these governmental agencies have been formed over time to provide service and to support a vision for the communities in which they serve.
Solvang decided to incorporate as a City in 1985 in order to retain transient occupancy tax (TOT) generated in the City and use the funds locally. Buellton Incorporated as a City in 1992 as part of a vision to develop Buellton and retain taxes locally within it’s City limits.
As the Santa Ynez Valley grows over time, these agencies have tried and failed to work together to build synergies for a long-term mutually beneficial outcome.
Strategic Partnerships is a way for these agencies to create mutually beneficial long term relationships. For example, in 2017, Solvang traded its excess State Water supply to ID#1 in return for future water rights to State Water in years of drought. This helps lower cost to resident and business rate payers, and increases the quality and reliability of water for Solvang.
The Solvang City Council needs to focus on Strategic Partnerships with neighboring agencies that create economies of scale and deliver synergistic high quality, reliable services at a lower cost.
Potential Opportunities/ Ideas:
#1 Continue Water-banking with ID#1 and explorer other banking opportunities and diversify Solvang’s excess state water in high years, then pulling lower-cost water from them in times of drought. This will produce a more consistent and higher quality of water through our infrastructure which not only increases its life, but also increases the life of your home/ business appliances and fixtures. To top it off, it decreases containment levels traveling to the Waste Water Treatment Plant.
#2 Pursue long-term water purchase agreement with ID#1 to secure water at a lower rate than the on-demand rate Solvang currently has to pay.
#3 Consider long-term planning/ consideration of opportunities for partnership of the two agencies to decrease overhead, spread the cost of our state water over a larger base and increase our water management logistics/ capabilities, source of supply and overall stronger water agency for the future. Solvang residents already pay property taxes to ID#1, but receive no benefit for it.
#4 Solvang is in need of a new Waste Water Treatment Plant and it will be very costly. Costly projects burn through the City’s fund reserves and ultimately increase rates charged out to the residents and businesses. We can consider becoming the regional waste water plant to help share in the cost for a new treatment plant and operational overhead. Recycled water for direct re-use standards are also in development, making the treatment plant a possible source of supply if it really came down to it; or in the event of a catastrophic event that shut down state water for a period of time.
#5 Library services currently come from the City of Santa Barbara and costs have been rising very significantly with no transparency and decreased services. Buellton and Solvang can partner up and move away from Santa Barbara Administration and join up with Santa Maria or Goleta’s new system to reduce cost and increase services provided. We are currently pursuing Goleta.
#6 Sheriff’s services are currently contracted out from the County of Santa Barbara and they are moving to a new “Full Cost Recovery” system. It’s basically a fancy way of charging Solvang and Buellton for Santa Barbara Counties unfunded liabilities and significantly increasing our cost with no increased benefit to the residents of Buellton or Solvang. Maybe it is time for Solvang and Buellton to investigate other options such as contracting out from a nearby City to see if we could get control of cost and potentially increase services.
#7 Consider partnering with Buellton and Santa Barbara County to create safe traffic-free bike/ and pedestrian trails throughout the Valley to attract residents and visitors. Implementation of Valley Wide bike and pedestrian trails throughout the Valley will also help reduce traffic on our already congested roads while providing safer family friendly trails and connecting the different Cities and towns throughout the SYV.
#8 Planning/Plan Check/Permit restructuring plan to create a smoother process for residents, business owners, and developers to build, remodel and/or make tenant improvements. Possibly partner with Buellton for plan check or hire a part-time consultant to work with staff a few days a week for a more consistent process and consider monthly project status meetings to involve engineering, planning, fire, plan check, etc. to help close the loop on projects. Consider an alternative more efficient, more consistent, and user-friendly way of providing Planning services. We need to make this process more friendly for the residents and businesses in Solvang. We also need to consider a form of an Amnesty Program to establish a limited-time opportunity for users that have operated without the benefit of a permit so they may seek them today with customer service oriented staff willing to help and guide through the process. This will increase property values and safety, and decrease liabilities, that new home owners face when buying a home with un-permitted work.
5. Aging Infrastructure
Overtime all Cities have to deal with aging/ depreciated infrastructure that is nearing it’s end of life and no longer meets today’s standard’s/ future demand’s or is no longer worth the costly upgrades/ repairs.
The most costly aging piece of infrastructure the City of Solvang will have to deal with in the very near future is the Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP). Between changes in concentration levels going to the plant with more water efficient appliances today, age and costly upgrades needed, containment levels going to the plant and new state requirements our plant has been pushed to it’s limits and is approaching systemic failure. In fact, it now can’t even be shut down for maintenance and repairs.
This is a big problem (and potential big liability) that comes with a large cost. It will also be very important for the council to carefully consider the pros & cons of the replacement options, the associated cost and impact on our Water and Sewer Rates, the overall long-term operational cost, future plans for the community and potential new State regulations. Solvang will also be facing aging water and sewer pipe infrastructure throughout the City.
Looking into the future there are some ideas to think about:
#1 WWTP - Replacement options for the current WWTP are generally down to two options at this point. 1) Replace the plant with Conventional Plant without Recycled Water capability or 2) Replace with a Membrane Bioreactor Plant (MBR) with Recycled Water. These come at a significant cost differential and careful funding analysis/ strategy and impacts on Water Rate’s will need to be carefully studied to keep our rates stabilized. Furthermore we need to think about future environmental standards the State might issue and if one type of plant leaves us in better hands or not. Water is critical and Solvang can’t just plop in a desalination plant. - Recycled water as a new source of supply may be our solution to staying green and having plenty of water even when in severe drought.
#2 Library - Consider adding new technologies and services to better serve more segments of the population and update the library with today’s times.
#3 Vet’s Hall - Consider investing in this historic gem that serves so many community functions that its almost a community center. A public-private partnership could be considered here to remodel the Vet’s Hall to include a civic meeting room for small corporate hands on events/ SMERF/ City/ County/ other agency meetings.