A Mighty Task

Roseville City Manager Rob Jensen on managing one the area’s fastest-growing cities

Back Q&A Jan 16, 2017 By Rich Ehisen

Roseville City Manager Rob Jensen oversees the Capital Region’s only full-service city, a task that comes with managing a $500 million budget, 15 departments and over 1,200 employees. We sat down with him to talk about the challenges and opportunities facing one of the area’s fastest-growing cities.

Some people might not fully understand what a city manager does. What are some of the unique aspects of your job?

As a full-service community, we provide much more than the normal services you expect of a city — the police and fire and maintaining the infrastructure. We also have our own electric department, we have our own water utilities, our own parks and recreation department. We’re running a bunch of business lines every day, and it’s never dull. They all interact with each other. Sometimes it seems quite complex, but that complexity is actually really simplistic because we’re doing it all together as a team.

The redevelopment of the downtown area has been a long time coming, with a few big fits and starts. How would you assess that situation now?

I think we’re at the cusp of something really big. With those fits and starts, as you say, it takes a desire and a commitment to keep pushing when things get difficult. But I think today we’re at a very great point with what’s occurring in the downtown. We’ve got the infrastructure in place, which was the first step in making sure that we’re plug-and-play ready. We’re making sure we’re setting up the parking that’s necessary, setting up the improvement districts where businesses that are looking to help can fund some of the things that need to occur in the downtown. It’s time for government to step back and let the private side take over.

Rising pension costs are a major concern for local governments across California. How is Roseville situated in this regard?

We’ve done a number of positive things to reduce those going-forward costs, such as moving new employees from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan and having them pick up 100 percent of their share of the pension costs. But our unfunded liabilities and post-retirement health costs are still an issue. We are paying out full CalPERS payments each year and we intend to continue. We are also estimating that 40 percent of our workers could retire within the next five years, and there’s going to be [associated pension and health care] costs, so the council is also moving to adopt a policy forcing us to pay down retiree health costs. That’s always been our strategy: Get ahead of the curve and make sure we’re in a position to deal with opportunities that come forward.

“If you look at Roseville as a whole we’ve kind of got two communities. We’ve got the big box shopping areas … but we also have the other side of that, which is the smaller businesses that bring in a different demographic.”

Development and economic growth are major issues for local governments. In years past, that has often meant adding national brand stores and big tax-revenue items like auto malls. But many of the younger people cities are trying to attract prefer smaller, non-chain stores and more open space. What is Roseville’s thinking in this area?

If you look at Roseville as a whole we’ve kind of got two communities. We’ve got the big box shopping areas – the Galleria mall, The Fountains, developments on Baseline and Fiddyment — but we also have the other side of that, which is the smaller businesses that bring in a different demographic. We view the downtown area as the impetus of that. Ideally, what you do is you create an environment where someone can come to the downtown and shop at some of the one-off stores, they can have the entertainment, they can go out to the Automall to buy a car, and then maybe in the evening go eat dinner and come back to the downtown for some nightlife. It’s creating an environment where people want to be because, at the end of the day, they’re bringing in the revenue that helps us provide the services we need. So, for Roseville we’re not looking at just one model. It is really a global model that creates an atmosphere and an environment that attracts people here.

Cities across California have been working to establish a framework for managing legal medical marijuana, and now they have to gear up for legal recreational use. What challenges and opportunities does this create for your city?

The issue for the council is making sure we’re protecting the citizens within Roseville and that we’re not having unintended impacts and consequences that result from legalization. Our police chief is pretty adamant that there will be impacts that we’re going to have to deal with, such as increased crime and increased police calls for service, which result in increased costs for the City and quality-of-life degradation for our residents. So we’ll look to our ordinances that today restrict the use of marijuana in any public place, which would keep that out of the mainstream for our residents, and look to adjust our policing model as necessary.

But are there opportunities as well? Certainly the tax revenue is a positive.

If there is a positive that would be it. But I would question as to whether the tax revenue would offset the increased cost of services that we’ll have as a result of the legalization. I think at the end of the day we could see a fiscal negative even with the tax portion of it.

Sacramento has been roiled for years over the issue of shifting to an executive or ‘strong’ mayor system. Roseville has a council-manager system, which requires the city manager and city council to work very closely together. How would you describe the working relationship you have with the council?

I think it’s fantastic. Roseville has had a very unified city council for years. Certainly not every issue has been a 5-0 vote, but the council’s overall direction has been very good. It makes it very easy for a city manager when you’re not trying to balance a council’s multiple interests. I meet with every one of our council members once a week and we have great check-ins to make sure we’re headed in the right direction. It’s been a fantastic working relationship for me and I think if you asked prior city managers, they would probably give you the same message.

What do you see ahead for Roseville in regard to overall growth and expansion over the next decade?

For Roseville, fiscal responsibility is going to be No. 1. For the last few years, we’ve been able to match our revenues with our expenses. We hadn’t done that for the five to seven years before that; we were borrowing from our savings accounts to make sure we balanced our budget. But going forward, our costs are likely going to continue to rise at a rate higher than our revenue stream. We’re going to have to start looking at the services we provide and asking if they are in alignment with the community’s expectations and, if so, how will we pay for some of those things. So we will be engaging the community and having discussions about our service levels. Are we able to maintain those, and are there programs and things that we’re doing that maybe we shouldn’t do as we go forward? That’s going to be one of the key issues.

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