Looking behind the scenes

Looking behind the scenes: Local buck worn to a frazzle

By: Jim Ruffalo
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Promising to deposit something into the notebook while wondering if we’ll be allowed to use IOUs to pay our state income tax ... Make no mistake, the ongoing budget dilemma has more than a few local entities scribbling their annual fiscal maps on an Etch-A-Sketch because no sooner does an idea get entered than it quickly turns into lost letters in the sand. Case in point, although nobody wants to go on the record with it, is the City of Auburn. It is practically at the point where proposed budget items and changes formulated in any given morning become unusable by that afternoon. Recently, your humble servant predicted that another round of city employee layoffs was just an announcement away, and for only the briefest period of time, I was wrong. Oh, the facts were correct. Layoffs were already proposed, with the Planning Department rumored to lose at least one loyal employee. But on Monday morning, the city financial wizards convened and somehow (a decimal point here, an erasure there, and voila) recast the budget where that round of layoffs was deemed unnecessary. However, by Tuesday morning, financial reality — including the possible disappearance of Gottschalks from the local retail scene — rendered those careful and merciful calculations useless. Checking city records, we found that a Gottschalks closure will cost the city more than $100,000 in tax revenue and fees. And losing Pasquale T’s doesn’t help. Now would be a good spot to consider what Bruce Cosgrove, the longtime executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce, uttered the other day. “Successful business people always find ways to remain successful, even in hard times,” he said. Now maybe that won’t be embroidered on a sampler and hung on the wall, but it will pass for about the most useful information we’ve heard in recent times. His utterance came after a discussion, no doubt prompted after local entrepreneur Margareta Swann grabbed the floor at last week’s Meddlers and verbally challenged the local Chamber to start finding ways to bring new dollars into the village, rather than spending the same local buck over and over until its woefully worn to a frazzle. “I’ve been here a long time,” she told me later, “and I’ve watched Grass Valley and Nevada City really go after the ‘tourist’ dollar. We have so much more to offer in Auburn, but nobody really knows it.” Swann went on to insist that Old Town gets a bit of business because it can be seen from I-80, but Downtown may as well be Shangri-La, disappearing anytime a well-heeled tourist heads east from Sacramento or San Francisco. She then added that the Chamber really ought to be a leader in letting the rest of the world know about the charms of our little corner of the realm. Cosgrove not only agrees, but says the Chamber is already hard at work in doing just that. He points to a meeting scheduled for Thursday in which the Old Town and Downtown business associations will be joined by business representatives from Meadow Vista, Highway 49, Auburn Town Center, Newcastle and perhaps Sierra Gateway (Bowman). That sounds a lot like an idea recently told to me by Harvey Roper, but Cosgrove insists it’s not only different, but has been in the works for a while. “We’re getting together to look at what we’re doing now, and see if it can be done better as a group,” he added, nevertheless still echoing what Roper told me earlier. “It’s all about working together — all of us — and finding the right strategies to survive and thrive,” he said, then insisting that the first things to look at were reducing expenses, being smarter about how to do business, and finding things what are working here or elsewhere and emulating them or doing them better. Having been involved in the business community for nearly forever, Cosgrove is well aware of the axiom of making lemonade whenever life hands you a lemon. “What we really need to do is find people with good lemonade recipes, and,” he added, “more importantly, we also need to find people who love to make lemonade.” As usual, thinkers abound, but doers are rarer than an on-time budget from Sacramento. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. He can be reached at