Taxpayers Association Makes Recommendation to SMART

The letter that appears below was sent to Deborah Fudge and the SMART Board. We are sending copies to those who appoint SMART board members and members of the news media.
Deborah Fudge,
Chairwoman & SMART Board Members

Re: Open Letter & Recommendation
Dear Chairwoman Fudge:
The current financial shortfall facing the SMART Board raises questions regarding the credibility of the financial assumptions underlying the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District 2009 Measure Q Strategic Plan. The plan spans twenty years. Less than one year into the plan, the financial assumptions for the first year missed the mark by a substantial margin. Debates regarding delays and destinations have surfaced and will undoubtedly continue for some time.
Beyond the question of which cities will be included in the first phase of the project and whether full implementation of the plan will be delayed, there is a more basic question. How credible are the financial assumptions upon which the plan is based? Are the assumptions for the next 19 years more realistic than they were for the first year? This question should be on the mind of each Board member and those who appointed them. It is certainly on the mind of voters.
The shortfall is blamed on the recession. Recessions happen. One or more additional recessions will probably occur over the remaining 19 years. It is critical the plan reflects a prudent and realistic assessment of the future. This applies to tax revenues, potential government grants and expense assumptions. If the plan unraveled this early in the game, it is hardly prudent to dismiss fears and the probabilities of future problems.
The Sonoma County Taxpayers’ Association recommends the SMART Board engage an outside professional consulting firm to complete an independent evaluation of the plan. Ideally the independent evaluation will be undertaken promptly, but certainly before any new, irrevocable financial commitments are made. A “comfort letter” indicating the confidence the firm has in the viability of the current plan should accompany their assessment, together with their view of potential areas of risk. This second opinion will give voters the confidence to which they are entitled in return for their commitment of tax dollars.
A second independent opinion can also provide a degree of comfort to the SMART Board in the execution of their fiduciary responsibility. It can validate the credibility of the current plan; or in the alternative, identify potential future risks. With advanced knowledge of potential pitfalls, the Board can plan accordingly. The alternative approach, which we are currently witnessing, is to grapple with problems after they materialize.

Jack Atkin

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