At the May 19 Milpitas City Council meeting, Council voted unanimously to appoint Steve McHarris as City Manager. McHarris had been serving as Interim City Manager for almost exactly a year.
Read The Beat’s recent interview with McHarris about his position, what the City’s priorities have been during the pandemic, and how we move forward from here…
What are your top 3 goals as City Manager?
The City’s goals are set by the City Council and carried out by staff, and right now we’re focused on maintaining City essential services during this pandemic. We realize these are very difficult times for all of us, and the services we provide are critical to the Milpitas community. We’re extremely resilient, though, and will emerge stronger and smarter.
We have a great City workforce and I want to make sure they are supported at all times. We work as a team and that includes taking care of our fellow employees. I strive for a safe, secure, and healthy workplace, with open communication that ultimately serves the public well.
Strengthening our community partnerships is another goal that allows the City to better serve businesses and residents, especially those most impacted by the crisis. Milpitas has many wonderful service clubs, faith-based organizations, educational institutions, and non-profits that enable the City to stretch our resources as far as possible.
What have been the priorities for you and City Staff during this pandemic?
Taking care of our community is our top priority. I’m doing everything I can, working in partnership with the City Council and our staff, to keep this community safe. The business of the City continues, and public safety and first responders are at the forefront.
What business operators should know is that we have staff working seven days a week to support them through this crisis. We’re connecting our businesses to financial and technical assistance, and we were one of the first cities in the County to develop a comprehensive business research outreach and communication program. Businesses can go to our Milpitas Business Resource web page, easily find many federal, state, and local resources, and access our professional staff.
How much revenue will the City lose as a result of the pandemic, and how will this affect the residents of the community?
The City has been very diligent about saving money so that we have a cushion when we face times like this. Without much actual revenue data available yet, we modeled potential revenue impacts based on experience from the 2008-09 Great Recession. We anticipate a current-year revenue loss of about $7 million that will require us to use “rainy day reserves” to offset this loss; that’s exactly what these reserves are for, and we are fortunate that we were careful to save during better times.
We’ve already experienced cuts in recreation and other in-person programs and services due to health concerns. Right now, we don’t expect any other immediate changes in services for our residents, but we are ready to adapt as necessary for the community’s safety.
For the next fiscal year, which starts on July 1, we reduced revenue estimates by $11 million from the preliminary forecast published last January. The reductions are offset by about $6 million in spending cuts achieved by postponing major maintenance repairs and improvements to City parks and buildings such as our police and fire stations. Our goal is to retain the public safety and other services that our residents expect and deserve.
However, as more economic data becomes available that show additional revenue loss to the City, we may face more severe budget cuts and service reductions later this year which would result in more service reductions to our residents than we are experiencing today. Again, we will be flexible and do what’s right for the community.
What are some other challenges the City is facing right now, and how are you dealing with them?
The economic downturn has hit the City’s operational revenues quicker and deeper than the 2008-09 Great Recession. It’s very serious. And while the federal government has been issuing funding relief to individuals, businesses, and larger government agencies, smaller cities like Milpitas have not yet received a single dollar. Our challenge is to work as smart as we can using technology and our rainy-day reserve to keep our police, fire, and utility services operating at the level our residents expect. We’ve deferred repair and maintenance of parks and public safety buildings as a way to maintain our basic City operations. We’ll continue to evaluate how we can save money and how we can make up for lost revenues.
Despite financial setbacks, our staff continues to give their best in upholding the community’s values, goals, vision, and passion. This is essential for a vibrant, diverse, compassionate, sustainable, and forward-thinking Milpitas. I’m inspired by how quickly we’ve changed course in the face of the pandemic and how we’ve taken bold steps towards tackling local and regional issues.
What kinds of City services can the community still access right now, and how would they go about it?
The latest information on City services is available in our weekly “Information Memos” listed on the City’s COVID-19 Web page. Here’s a quick status list of our operating services:
- The Police Department is fully operational, and the lobby is open from 8 AM to 5 PM with a maximum of four people at a time. Community members can call 408-586-2400 for more information. All fire stations are fully operational.
- Public meetings, including City Council and Planning Commission meetings, are set up as video conferences and livestreamed on the City’s Facebook with virtual public comment available during the meeting. Other essential meetings are limited and may also occur virtually as needed.
- City Permit Center and Inspection Services are closed for all in-person services, but staff can provide permit and plan review services via email, website information, telephone, and teleconferencing. All construction is currently allowed as indicated in the latest Santa Clara County Public Health Order.
- Recreation and Community Services have closed all park playgrounds and sport courts, but parks are still available for passive recreation such as walking and hiking. Although all community programs and gatherings remain cancelled, there are several virtual recreation and well-being sessions available on the City’s Recreation web page. The Senior Center remains closed for programming but offers “to-go” lunches as a continuation of its Senior Nutrition Lunch Program.
- Other City services such as water, sewer, stormwater, and traffic signal operation are fully operational. Park maintenance with enhanced cleaning for some City facilities, emergency services for trees and streets, and Underground Service Alert services for construction projects are also operational. City staff continues to work with Milpitas Sanitation to ensure normal solid waste collection continues. Meter-reading staff continue to respond to water service calls and maintain the City’s meter reading schedule.
- The Milpitas Volunteer Program continues to seek volunteers; more information is available on the City’s volunteer web page.
What has it been like working as City Manager from home?
It was very different at first and has now become routine, but I truly miss in-person interaction with our staff and the public. It’s interesting to see the benefits that have arisen out of this new way of working, such as our quick embrace of continuous community contact and messaging via our web site, social media, informational communiques, and press releases. This is likely the result of our Silicon Valley culture that requires the ability to turn on a dime if necessary.
What do you enjoy most about your role as City Manager?
It’s about the community we serve. We can clearly make a difference in people’s lives, and I take this responsibility and commitment very seriously. I have the unique opportunity to work directly with our councilmembers and our talented city staff in achieving community goals and expectations, especially in the face of pandemic adversity. I believe we are achieving this every day, which to me, is the ultimate reward.
Anything else you want Milpitas residents to know?
Although we continue to deal with pandemic impacts, there are other serious issues happening in our country. Milpitas enjoys a diverse population, and I believe we have the highest respect for each other. As noted by our Police Chief, Armando Corpuz, the City of Milpitas strives to serve our community with fairness that is consistent with our community’s values. No matter what happens in the world around us, we’re going to do everything possible to ensure the City has resources to protect every resident and business. We lead by example in Milpitas, and I’m confident we will all get through these trying times as a unified, strong community.