Keeping with the City of Bishop’s motto, “100 Years of Service,” new City Administrator Jim Southworth said he plans on making sure those services, such as public safety and infrastructure improvements, are still available through the dark financial days that lie ahead.
Southworth, who has more than 30 years of administration under his belt, said in a recent interview that he will try and maintain the economically conservative nature of the city’s administration, while recognizing room for growth and meeting generational expectations.
He is also a small-town guy, avid skier and instructor, hunter and skeet shooter who said he and his wife “are so very excited to be here – we feel at home.”
A self-proclaimed “purple blood,” Southworth was born and raised in Minnesota. He earned an upper-graduate degree in Urban and Regional Studies with an Administration track from then-Mankato State College, now known as Minnesota State at Mankato.
He started his city manager career with a position in Marine City, Mich. in 1976. He worked for the City of Toppenish, Wash., located within the Yakama Indian Nation and Yakima Valley from 1980-2002. Southworth moved to and managed Monroe, Wash., in the Puget Sound area before deciding to move to California to be closer to his children in 2008.
During his career he has handled many budgets, with spending plans ranging in value from $65 million to $3 million, and has weathered bad financial storms and fast-paced expansion with equal aplomb.
He explained that in the 1980s, the economy in the state of Washington was in dire straits and cities there adopted a two-year budget scheme, similar to the model Bishop has adopted during the past two years.
“It’s a good tool to measure the expected long-term trends,” Southworth said, and it can help to keep the budget in line with long-term revenue growth.
He added that from what he can see so far, Bishop is good at maintaining services using a disciplined approach to budgeting. This is evident in the relatively constant number of city employees – just the right amount.
City employee positions are “streamlined,” he said, adding he is always hesitant to layoff any employee. He said that laying people off leads to unemployment and a weaker local economy, which he considers defeating the purpose of providing services. He said that if reserves have to be used to pay salaries due to weak finances, Southworth said the city should look at the spending problem first. He said he considers layoffs to be extremely “short-sighted.”
Southworth also explained that creating and maintaining municipal budgets in California is incredibly difficult right now.
For the sake of the interview, and his own files, Southworth had designed graphs of the expenditures and revenues for the city. As might be expected, he explained, expenditures are relatively constant, while revenues from the state vary more than $500,000 a payment. He said with these fluctuations, planning ahead is a “wait-and-see” game.
And the budget equates to the services Southworth said he wants to maintain. These services include making sure current needs are met such as public safety and being able to maintain the “quality of life” the citizens of Bishop have come to expect.
He explained, the city’s budget is funded primarily through transient occupancy, or bed taxes, and sales tax. He said to maintain those valuable revenue sources, local businesses and the tourism trade need to be supported.
He added that he hopes The Retail Coach consulting and retail analyst firm hired by the city will reveal new areas for sales that existing businesses may be able to build upon.
He explained that as the city’s administrator, part of his job will be to bring growth to existing businesses.
Again, boosting the local economy means boosting the city’s revenues, Southworth explained, and he said he hopes Bishop gets the boost it needs to get through the current economic downturn.
On a personal note, Southworth has already began teaching skiers at Eagle Lodge. He added he is very excited to become part of the team at City Hall and to work together with fantastic coworkers and the city’s citizens.
Southworth has filled the vacancy left by retired 30-year administrator Rick Pucci.