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After 21 Years, Piedmont's Money Chief Offers Fond Goodbye

As Piedmont's longtime Director of Finance & Human Resources, Mark Bichsel, prepares to clean out his desk, he offers appreciation for the "incredible" enthusiasm that the community has for helping the city.

Patch dropped by the office of , to get his perspective on the city as he prepares to leave on March 15.

"I would say probably the most significant thing I've noticed since I've been here in Piedmont is the tremendous volunteerism and support of the community," he said in an interview Friday. "Very few cities, I believe, have this number of people giving their time to the community."

Bichsel, who's been Piedmont's Director of Finance & Human Resources since 1992, pointed to the hardworking city council members, who receive no compensation, and the many citizens who volunteer large amounts of time for city committees and commissions.

He singled out the panel he works closely with, the Piedmont Municipal Tax Review Committee, whose nine volunteer members probably met 25 times between March and October to compile their recent 31-page report. They also had to present their findings at public forums with PowerPoint presentations and synopses, he noted.

It would have cost the city more $100,000 to hire a public accounting firm to prepare such a report, and an outside firm's report would likely be of lower quality than what the committe produced, he said.

And despite the hard work, 30 people applied for the nine positions on the committee, Bichsel said.

"That's true of not just the tax committee," he said. "That's true of all our city commissions."

"It's just incredible the enthusiasm the community has for their city here."

By contrast, in Castro Valley, where he lives, residents have twice voted down the option to form a city. (Castro Valley is unicorporated.)

He noted also Piedmont's willingness to keep renewing a parcel tax for city services, in addition to one for the school district and one for sewers. The city parcel tax, which runs about $1,000 a year for a typical home, brings in $1.6 million, or about 7 percent of general fund revenue, Bichsel said.

Asked why he's leaving and his plans for the future, Bichsel said he's still considering a number of options and that the timing seemed right for him to leave. "I feel it's the right decision," he said. "I'm going to be 65 in May."

Among the biggest future financial challenges meanwhile for the city and for the new finance director, Erick Cheung, who comes on board March 6, will be containing the costs of medical benefits and pensions for city employees, he said, noting that the problem is widely shared by state and local governments alike. He believes the city has developed strategies that will have successfully resolved those problems by 2020 or 2012, he said.

"I think that Piedmont will weather this," he said. 

"I think the community spirit here, the volunteer spirit and the willingness to delve into the issues will continue to make this a top-tier city."

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