Is Measure L being spent as promised?

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Among the central points of contention between the Measure L Citizens Oversight Committee and the Ridgecrest City Council is the apparently contrasting philosophical beliefs of the former, that Measure L funds should be augmenting police and street spending, and the latter, that so long as funds are spent in those categories the council is abiding by the spirit in which the local tax increase was passed. (See also related story, this page.)

Members of the committee and the public pointed out at Monday night’s meeting that by making deeper cuts in general-fund support to police and streets and backfilling them with Measure L — while sparing departments such as Parks and Recreation from undergoing comparable cuts — the city is in essence violating the voter intent to increase spending on infrastructure and public safety.

Committeemember Phil Salvatore, a cost analyst at China Lake, has reviewed the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Reporting statements back to 2004 to generate a baseline of city support to each department. At a December meeting of the committee, he pointed out that when the city passed Measure L, general fund support diminished and the city began to lean more heavily on the special tax.

Others noted that between the council’s approval to backfill additional police salaries and pension obligations and a lower-than-anticipated collection of tax revenue — now projected at $1.135 million for the partial fiscal year, rather than $1.5 million — street allocations have dwindled from $738,000 to $238,000.

Salvatore said that shift came as a surprise, as he was only made aware of it at the meeting.

Oversight member Scott Garver, deputy district attorney for the Ridgecrest area, said that although he believed the language of the Measure L ordinance prevented members from having input on the ratio between police and street spending, he believed that the language directed the committee to provide both real-time input to the council and after-the-fact reporting to the public.

“What we don’t want is a situation where Measure L merely substitutes the previous general fund transfers to police and streets,” said Andy Anderson, another committee member.

“With the backfill type of thing, where the city is just using Measure L to offset cuts to the Police Department, how is that any different from pulling money from the Parks and Recreation Department and filling it with Measure L?” asked Al Huey during public comment. “I thought Measure L was supposed to improve or expand those areas, but here we’re just using it to maintain what we have.”

He added that he would also like to see a more equitable split of Measure L between police and streets.

“When I supported Measure L, I was voting for more money to be spent on streets and public safety,” said resident Jim Fallgatter. “This is really disturbing.”

Story First Published: 2013-01-16