Walmart project moves forward

Budget vulnerabilities revealed, departing councilmembers bid farewell

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

A resolution authorizing the city manager to execute the final negotiations leading up to the opening of the Super Walmart on South China Lake Boulevard was the headlining discussion item on last week’s agenda for the Ridgecrest City Council.

“It should be the last agreement we bring before the council and, once executed, we will be able to establish a timeline for an actual gold-shovel groundbreaking and eventual opening of Walmart,” Community Development Director Gary Parsons told the council.

The city’s years-long effort to open the super store has been fraught with environmental and legal delays, but officials say the project is now moving forward very quickly. Parsons said that he hopes the groundbreaking could be “my early Christmas present to you, but it might be after the first of the year.”

The resolution will allow City Manager Dennis Spear to execute modifications to the current development agreement. With the council’s approval, that construction agreement will commit city Tax Allocation Bonds to fulfill its share of infrastructure improvements as outlined in the environmental impact study.

“Other minor modifications included in the agreement have been reviewed and approved by the city engineer and relate to portions of the public works projects in which the city has been able to gain other grant funds,” reads the staff report.

Discussion also arose regarding the city’s quarterly budget report, which was scheduled for routine approval without comment as part of the consent calendar.

Vice Mayor Jerry Taylor said that wrapped up in that report were five budgetary concerns, including a zero balance in the general fund, lower-than-projected revenues, reliance on one time funds, persistent cash-flow issues and a possible budget shortfall.

He said that if revenues were coming in short, the council needed to know so that they could make mirroring adjustments in spending.

“I’m not trying to say the sky is falling, but I want to know what kinds of adjustments we need to make,” said Taylor.

He asked staff to tell the council to provide an estimate of the budget shortfall. Staff answered that a $620,000 payment from the county will allow for a cushion.

Taylor said that if the general fund had a zero balance, that payment should go into reserves and not be touched, and that cuts must be made to compensate for revenue shortfalls. He again asked what that shortfall was.

He added that staff had known for sometime about the deficit, he said, since he requested more than a month ago that the item be discussed in October.

“I’d like to know too,” said Jason Patin. “But the fact of the matter is we don’t know how the council is going to spend the money.”

Resident Michael Neel spoke from the public microphone, asking the council to explain the apparent disconnect between the amount of general fund expenditures and revenues for some departments. He said that the Parks and Recreation Department brought in 6 percent of the revenue while expending 18 percent of the revenue, while Public Works brought in 7 percent and only accounted for 1 percent of GF expenditures.

(This report does not reflect an absolute spending picture, since some departmental funding comes from other sources.)

However, Neel said that he hoped Taylor would continue to advocate for fiscal responsibility even after his term comes to an end next month.

On that note, the council address the departure of Taylor, who lost the mayoral election, and current Mayor Ron Carter, who lost his bid for council, and Councilman Steven Morgan, who will leave the council to serve on the IWV Airport District Board of Directors.

Morgan said that now that elections are over, he hopes that elected officials can put any conflicts behind them and work together for the good of the community.

He also blamed some of the negative climate of the election season on the intense scrutiny of city officials facilitated by local message boards.

“The difficulties we face today are no different than those faced by previous councils,” said Morgan. “The difference, of course, is that because of the technology that we have today — the misuse of that technology, in my opinion — we have more people throwing out more crap and making it more difficult for this group to do its job because they’re constantly dodging the arrows and slings of people who love to be a mouthpiece but refuse to get personally involved.

“I hope that everyone can lay down their blades, shake each others’ hands and just move on.”

“At this point in time, I obviously respect the will of the voters,” said Taylor. “I will be moving from this side of the podium to [the public] side.”

He also expressed frustrating at what he believed were the factors that negatively impacted his campaign — including statements made in the Daily Independent and his placement on the ballot.

“I get really tired of inaccurate, and I will just say outright lies, that people have written,” he said. “If you say something about me, that’s fine. At least talk about it accurately.”

He accused the DI of publishing letters with false accusations, the truth of which he said could have been corroborated by their own reporter, without giving him a chance before the election to respond.

But Taylor wished the best to the three incoming members of the council. “I wish I could say I’m leaving you in good stead. But you are going to have some hard decisions to make in your next budget cycle.”

Carter said that he has been a public servant since he was 18 years old, and that he has enjoyed every minute of it.

He also congratulated incoming members of the council, and wished them luck in their upcoming service.

Carter added that as his 16 years on the council comes to an end, “My family is celebrating.”

Story First Published: 2012-11-14