Measure L committee reviews spending trends

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

In an effort to understand Ridgecrest’s historical trends of funding police and streets — the two target areas for the recently passed Measure L tax — members of the Oversight Committee reviewed past accounting reports from the city.

Member Phil Salvatore, a cost analyst at China Lake, reviewed the Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports submitted by the city for the last several budget cycles and presented his findings to the committee. He is expected to report back to the committee at its January meeting after confirming some of the expenditures with Interim City Manager Dennis Speer.

But the purpose of understanding those numbers, as expressed by several committee numbers, is so that the committee can ensure that the special tax is added to street and police budgets without being used to replace existing funding.

Committee Chair Benjamin “Eddie” Thomas questioned how those numbers related to the committee’s role to oversee Measure L spending.

“The public voted for Measure L to spend on police and streets. What we don’t want to see is the city taking money away from general fund support now that they have Measure L,” said Committee Member Andy Anderson.

“If there was $1 million in the budget for police and streets before, and we collect $2 million from Measure L, those columns should now add up to $3 million,” said committee member Scott Garver. “I think that’s where Mr. Salvatore’s report is going to help guide the committee.”

Police Chief Ron Strand cautioned the committee from comparing the city’s current funding of those departments to years that don’t reflect the current fiscal landscape at City Hall. “If you want a base year I think you need to look at 2011. If you are looking at 2004, well, I think we can all appreciate that was a different time.”

Salvatore acknowledged those differences, but stated he did not want to form the baseline on an anomoly.

Among the most significant changes to the city’s budget is the loss earlier this year of an estimated $2 million annual with the dissolution of redevelopment agencies in California. “We can’t take an average because there are elements in each year that are unique. But I think reviewing the information does give us a much better idea of the trends,” said member Michael Petersen.

Those numbers showed variation of up to $1 million in general fund to support to zero support in the 2012 budget.

A majority of the current council was criticized for approving one budget before the passage of Measure L, then revising it afterward to fund expenditures not related to streets and police. The council reverted back to the original when the public complained, but Garver said that attempt is the reason committee vigilance is important.

The committee also heard reports from Strand and Speer, formerly the public works director, who spoke to where funding for their respective departments come from.

Story First Published: 2012-12-05