COVID-19 presents new Lindsay manager with budget issues

New Lindsay city manager Joe Tanner expects sales tax to decrease as a result of coronavirus, says it is like ‘chopping off a limb’

By Paul Myers

LINDSAY – The struggle is real for a lot of a workers laid off because of the coronavirus, but for recently hired Lindsay city manager Joe Tanner, he is dealing with a different kind of coronavirus struggle.

When other employees were told to stay home, Tanner was just getting started in Lindsay. Hired in February, Tanner relieved interim city manager Mike Camarna on March 2. A week and a half later the coronavirus was designated a pandemic and California was told to shelter in place. Since then he has taken the job one day at a time.

“All the information was coming from a bunch of different directions. There was news reports and governor’s orders, new restrictions every day. I just had to take it as it came more or less,” Tanner said.

Since he certainly is beginning a high level job in the most unstable of times, Tanner said that he has been relying on his staff to navigate the waters around Lindsay.

“You know being so new and not having that familiarity with the city, the council, with the people in the community, with what resources we have available, I put a lot of work on their shoulders and they have reacted very positively so far,” Tanner said.

At the same time he has ingratiated himself nicely with other city managers in the region. Originally planning to take some out for a “get to know you” lunch, Tanner has had to settle on once a month city manager meetings. What he has found is a lot of cooperation among them.

“They are more than willing to help out and there hasn’t been any kind of competition or ill will or anything like that. Everyone is trying to get through this and help each other out,” Tanner said.

Uniquely Lindsay

While Gov. Newsom’s shelter-in-place order is hurting public budgets up and down the state, Lindsay is suffering more than others. Tanner said the largest challenge Lindsay has is their general fund, the city’s largest discretionary asset. The passage of their 1% sales tax increase in 2017 has added over $1 million a year to the fund, but their annual general fund debt is still over $10 million. The looming question for Tanner is, how can the city maintain their level of service when revenues are destined to take a hit?

“One of the things I’m working on is having some scenarios for the council to think about. What the budget might look like next year, the year after that and the year after that…the budget is going to be number one going forward,” Tanner said.

Fortunately, this is not Tanner’s first bite at the apple when it comes to city administration. His education was in politics and government at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. And in his experience as the director of administrative services at Desert Hot Springs, Tanner confronted a budget in trouble.

“[They didn’t have] many resources, similar in that respect to Lindsay. So, I definitely learned a lot. Dessert Hot Springs has a reputation of being a difficult city and how to proceed with your recommendations when they are not going to be very popular, budget cuts, cut backs for the chamber and how to proceed with those items.” Tanner said.

But before taking on this job fulltime, Tanner was interim management services director for two months in city of Monterey Park; interim deputy city manager for nine months at Port Hueneme; the director of administrative services in Moraga for five months. Before his three and a half years at Desert Hot Springs, which ended in March 2018, Tanner spent 10 months as interim city manager for Rio Vista in 2013.

Armed with a over a decade of experience, Tanner knows that for cities operating on the budgetary margins, like Lindsay, there is almost no room for failure. And in the coronavirus pandemic, a hit like this is catastrophic.

“Taking a hit like that, is like chopping off a limb almost,” Tanner said.

Returning to the Valley

There’s much to learn about his new job, that much is for certain, but he is not so wet behind the ears when it comes to the Valley. Nearing the top of the Central Valley, Tanner was born in Lodi. And since he has bounced around from city to city in his career, he felt that it was time for him and his family to settle down. Albeit they thought it might be a little easier than it has.

Initially the Tanner family wanted their kids to finish out the school year in Danville. Meanwhile, Tanner would stay in an AirBnB until they found a house to settle into in Lindsay. Well, that was before everyone was relegated to their homes for the time being. Now the prospect of buying a home, much less finding a real estate agent to show homes, is out the window. At least for the time being.

So, while Tanner is making a temporary home in what is someone else’s home, he is beginning the process of acquainting himself with the interworking’s of Lindsay.

“I think what I’ve learned most really, is about my employees. Building those relationships, how they operate even though we’ve been operating on different conditions than normal…how to manage employees remotely.

“That’s not something I’m generally used to. My management style is face-to-face and open door…that doesn’t happen in the same way in the virtual world. And getting to know the council and what makes them tick,” Tanner said.

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