The $225,000 price of doing nothing

Between December 19 (the last time a budget action appeared on the Ridgecrest City Council’s agenda) and tonight, the city has continued running on a structural deficit that is draining city financial resources at the rate of $3.72 per minute. This means that over the last 50 days the city of Ridgecrest has spent another $225,000 that it doesn’t have.

The financial peril of our city government is no longer an obscure and distant possibility but a concrete and imminent danger. In 2006 the city’s general fund reserve stood at $2 million. Over the last six years, that reserve has dropped more than $7 million, so that the reserve is now at minus $5 million. (The entire city budget is only $12 million.) This trend toward bankruptcy is the direct result of the council avoiding painful but necessary cuts year after year.

However, tonight’s council agenda again sidesteps the painful issue of budget cuts. Instead, the council will vote on expanding its funding for renovation projects for the Southern Sierra Boys & Girls Club and the Ridgecrest Senior Center.

With the disbanding of city redevelopment agencies, the repeated raiding of city funding streams by the state and the looming deep Defense Department cuts, the Ridgecrest City Council has undeniably been handed a smelly can of fiscal worms. However, inaction is not the answer to the city’s fiscal crisis — a crisis the council officially acknowledged over a year ago.

Lack of responsible action now is not just postponing a solution to the city’s debt problem, it is increasing that debt problem daily by adding this year’s unfunded expenditures to the ledger. In spite of Councilman Jim Sanders’ urging on Dec. 19, 2012, that decisive cuts must be made immediately to stop the city’s fiscal hemorrhaging, his call for action was dismissed by his fellow councilmembers as too harsh and abrupt.

Inaction has its price. How long will the council flirt with bankruptcy before it makes the painful but necessary budget cuts that it has avoided for years?

Story First Published: 2013-02-06