Council considers budget revisions

Taylor questions new spending out of diminishing general fund

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

After months of minimal and routine discussion of city business — as well as meetings canceled for lack for agenda items —the Ridgecrest City Council has a packed agenda for its Dec. 5 meeting, including induction of two new councilmembers and a new mayor in a majority change-up of theboard.

Dan Clark will be seated as mayor — the first to be directly elected by citizens. Although Clark had previously served on the council, he is returning after a four-year absence. Newcomers joining him on the dais will be Jim Sanders and Lori Acton. The mayor will serve a two-year term, while the councilmembers will each serve four years.

City Clerk Rachel Ford wrote in a staff report that although the results of the Nov. 6 election had not been certified by the time the agenda was published last Friday, she anticipated having the certification by tonight’s meeting.

The main items up for discussion include a presentation on the status of the budget, including a list of increased appropriations.

Vice Mayor Jerry Taylor told the News Review that he was frustrated that discussion of these items had been postponed for so long when staff knew back in September that budget revenues were coming in lower than projected.

Some members of the staff and council indicated at that time that the city would be able to use the $600,000 windfall from the county to fund some of these expenditures, but Taylor warned against the city’s continued use of one-time funds to float long-term obligations — particularly in light of the fact that in the last year the general fund reserve has fallen below zero.

In a letter addressed to Interim City Manager Dennis Speer, and copied to some 25 recipients including the media, Taylor said he had asked for the budget presentation in September when the city first reported significant cash-flow issues.

Three months later, and only three days before the meeting, the council still did not have any information. “I would appreciate the read-ahead material like I am sure the new councilmembers as well as the public would, since Item No. 14 is requesting $384K in budget transfers,” which he noted are expected to come out of the windfall that is presently the only money in the reserves. (For reference, just two years ago the city was keeping some $2 million in reserves.)

“The city hasn’t lived within its means for a while.” He said it started when the city began pulling money out of the wastewater fund to shore up spending. That $4.2 million was challenged, and the city later agreed to pay it back as a loan. But although the city no longer had that revenue source to fund expenditures, it did not make comparable cuts.

“I don’t think we should continue to live above our means. We have a non executable budget as it see it.”

Taylor noted that he will not be at the meeting in person, since his job with China Lake requires his presence at Patuxent River, but he will be dialing into the meeting.

The council will also hold a public hearing and consider adopting the 2013-14 action plan that amends the five year spending plan of Community Development Block Grants.

Special presentations will be made to the elected officials leaving office — including Mayor Ron Carter, Taylor and Councilmember Steven Morgan. Ridgecrest Police Sgt. Justin Dampier will receive an award of merit for exceptional service.

The council will also hear a presentation on the Kern Council of Governments Energy Action Plan.

Consent calendar items, which are typically routine items that can be approved without discussion, include several resolutions relating to accommodation of the Safe Routes to School project, an environmental reevaluation of the West Ridgecrest Boulevard paving project and a non-housing due diligence report.

Story First Published: 2012-12-05