City Manager News ReleaseCity of San Carlos
City Manager's Office

City Hall
600 Elm Street
Phone: (650) 802-4228
Fax: (650) 595-6729


Subject :

San Carlos Wins Helen Putnam Award for Budget Innovations
Statewide Award Presented by League of California Cities
Contact :Eva Spiegel, Communications Director, League of California Cities    (916) 658-8228
Brian Moura, Assistant City Manager, City of San Carlos    (650) 802-4210
Helen Putnam Award

Sacramento, CA — The League of California Cities has selected the City of San Carlos as a 2012 Helen Putnam Award winner. The 2012 award winners were honored during the Opening General Session of the League's Annual Conference & Expo at the San Diego Convention Center held Sept. 5 – 7.

The Award will be formally presented to the City of San Carlos at an upcoming City Council Meeting in October.

San Carlos' Winning Program
San Carlos won the award in the category of Internal Administration for its program titled "A Different Approach to the Budget: Cutting Costs & Adding Service."

The city resolved a $3.5 million structural General Fund budget deficit and increased services to the public over an 18 month period. This was done in the areas of police, fire, parks maintenance and recreation services through a mix of shared services, contract services and becoming a Recreation Service Provider in partnership with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, and cities of Redwood City and Half Moon Bay.

The Helen Putnam Award for Excellence
Established in 1982, the Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program recognizes outstanding cities that deliver the highest quality and level of service in the most effective manner possible. Particular attention and credit is given to applications specifically advancing the League’s strategic priorities (, which are determined each year by the board of directors.

The award is given annually in 11 categories: CCS Partnership Intergovernmental Collaboration Award; Community Services and Economic Development; Enhancing Public Trust, Ethics, and Community Involvement; Health and Wellness Programs; Housing Programs and Innovations; Internal Administration; Planning and Environmental Quality; Public Safety; Public Works, Infrastructure and Transportation; the Ruth Vreeland Award for Engaging Youth in City Government; and the League Partners Award for Excellence in City-Business Relations. Of the 99 nominations submitted in 2012, 12 cities were honored with awards.

A Few Words About Helen Putnam
Helen Putnam was a mother, school teacher, principal, mayor, and county supervisor. But most of all, Helen Putnam was a person who viewed meeting one's potential as the measure of success.

Excellence, to Helen Putnam, was shown by someone who did his or her very best. She was as supportive and loving of people who did their best as she was of people who did the best.

To the League and to California cities, Helen Putnam defined excellence. The Award for Excellence is given in her memory.

League of California Cities
Established in 1898, the League of California Cities is a nonprofit statewide association that advocates for cities with the state and federal governments and provides education and training services to elected and appointed city officials. 

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Helen Putnam Award

City:                San Carlos

Population:    28,400

Budget:           $27,585,800

Category:       Internal Administration

Program:        A Different Approach to the Budget: Cutting Costs & Adding Service

Program Summary

The City of San Carlos resolved a $3.5 Million structural General Fund budget deficit and increased services to the public over an 18 month period.  This was done in the areas of Police, Fire, Parks Maintenance & Recreation Services through a mix of Shared Services, Contract Services and Becoming a Recreation Service Provider in partnership with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, the City of Redwood City and the City of Half Moon Bay.



The City of San Carlos has faced some serious budgetary challenges in recent years.  The economic downturn meant that key revenues including sales tax and investment income had declined and the formerly dependable year-to-year growth in property tax revenue had ceased — but costs continued to grow.


San Carlos responded by significantly cutting departmental budgets, particularly those outside fire and police services.  The city tapped some short-term funds and reserves in the hope of an economic turnaround, which did not materialize.  Four revenue measures were proposed, but voters did not approve them.  Despite these efforts, a $3.5 million structural budget deficit remained. Clearly, the city needed a new strategy.


Talking to the Council & the Public: A Choice of Two Paths

The City Manager and Department Head team developed an overview of the Structural Budget Problem.  This included details on the history of the problem, service cuts made over the past decade and options going forward.


A series of public briefings and meetings were held to engage the residents and business community in San Carlos. This culminated in two all day budget workshops held on Saturdays.  At the workshops, every department discussed their service level, budget and challenges.


The City Manager laid out a “choice of two paths” for the City Council and the community.  One path involved more severe service cuts which could include the closure of a Community Center, several parks and even the elimination of the entire Parks & Recreation Department.  With this path, the budget would be balanced for another year but further cuts were likely after that.


The other path called for a hard look at how the City was delivering services in the three direct service areas that had grown the most – Fire, Police and Parks & Recreation.  Public testimony at the hearings indicated strong interest in the service delivery analysis approach.  Several speakers noted that they thought the City should bring the budget into balance with the revenues they had.  The speakers also felt that the current service level should be maintained and they indicated that the method by which the City was able to maintain services (in house staff, shared services, contracting, etc.) was of secondary interest to them.


The City Council responded by authorizing the City Manager and Department Head team to explore the second path.  This would involve looking at new ways of delivering and providing services that would save money while maintaining the current service level.  The Council also said that nothing was “off the table” in this process.


Council Principles

To explore each area, the City began discussions with neighboring agencies and private service providers.  The focus involved the principles agreed to by the City Council after the public workshop process:

1.                  Reduce annual costs by $3.5 Million or more

2.                  Reach the benchmark cost savings targets proposed by Staff:

·         Police - $2 Million per year

·         Fire - $1 Million per year

·         Parks Maintenance - $500,000 per year

3.                  Provide the same or a higher level of service to the community

4.                  Reach this goal in a relatively short period (12 to 18 months)

5.             Provide the City Council with two or more service alternatives or choices in each service area


Now the challenge was to explore the alternative service delivery models and see if the $3.5 Million savings target and the current service level targets could be reached.



The New Approaches Provide Cost Savings – and More Services


Police Department

Due to the nature of police services, the city focused its outreach efforts on discussions with neighboring cities and San Mateo County.  The city did not issue an RFP because only two agencies, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office and neighboring Redwood City, expressed interest.  Both agencies developed plans that could match the San Carlos Police Department services.  In addition, both agencies exceeded the $2 Million annual savings target by using shared management and resources.


The City Council selected the County Sheriff to provide police services in San Carlos, starting Nov. 1, 2010.  Because the projected savings exceeded the city’s original goals, San Carlos used some of these resources to re-establish services that had been unavailable in the community in recent years through the city Police Department including:

·         The traffic enforcement unit;

·         The Police Athletic League for local youth; and

·         A school resource officer to serve as a liaison with the schools.


San Carlos also used the savings to set up a police substation at city hall, with a captain, a sergeant and an administrator, so law enforcement would have a local presence and residents would not have to go to Redwood City to access police services.


Fire Department

San Carlos had received fire services through a shared fire department.  The City retained a consulting firm to define future fire services, draft the RFP and provide advice on selecting the future provider.


During the RFP process, the City evaluated 20 different service options.  The city ultimately selected re-establishing a city Fire Department managed by neighboring Redwood City as the best option which will result in annual savings of $1.3 Million. 


The new San Carlos Fire Department (SCFD) has matched the services of the prior shared department.  SCFD also provides additional services in the areas of incident reporting, community events and involvement and fire personnel training.


Parks Maintenance

The City prepared a Request for Proposal (RFP) that described the current service level in number of work hours provide by City maintenance crews.  The City received several responses from private firms.  The Council ultimately awarded the work to 2 such firms that were able to reduce the City’s annual expenses by over $500,000.  Additional savings came from selling off City equipment and supplies formerly used for this work unit.


Interestingly, the services provided by the private firms were actually higher than those provided by the City.  This was due to both a different in the way that these firms performed the services and the availability of extra maintenance hours.


In summary, San Carlos has saved over $4 Million per year in Police, Fire and Parks & Recreation services.  The City has also been able to increase its level of service to the public while simultaneously reducing costs.  This was done with a creative mix of Shared Services, Contract Services and Providing Services to other agencies.