The city is broke; fix the budget

The city is broke. This fact — though pointed out for months by minority voices on the council and majority voices in the public — has now been confirmed by an independent auditor as of last Wednesday’s regular business meeting.

The City Council could not legally take immediate action on this sobering news, since there was no publicly noticed item on the agenda that night, but we hope the city has now made this liability its top priority.

In December the city manager brought to light a $1.2-million annual structural deficit, which is compounded by recently lost millions and a growing debt. The council cut about $100,000, shifted a large chunk to Measure L and deferred the rest for future review. The News Review pointed out last week that this inaction has cost the city, in the 50 days since that revelation, approximately $250,000. Today that cost is nearly $300,000. And it grows by about $4 with each passing minute.

The auditor’s report showed that while revenues decreased this year, the city’s expenditures increased (see also related story). While some cities put away as much as 20 percent of their budget as a reserve, our city’s reserve is in the negative.

If the city does not take immediate and decisive action, Ridgecrest will be bankrupt. To date, members of the council have defended not making parks and recreation or personnel cuts as though their loyalty to these community assets will somehow preserve those resources. Unfortunately, the reality is exactly the opposite. If the city tanks, that means outside interests come in and decide what positions and facilities go on the chopping block and how to parcel out the remaining resources. If you really want to protect local interests, you need to take responsibility for the burgeoning liabilities of the city before someone with no knowledge of, or appreciation for, our community takes over.

National Public Radio presented an in-depth report on what happens when a city declares bankruptcy (www.npr.org/2012/07/11/156621232/ what-happens-when-a-city-declares-bankruptcy). The take-home message is that this was the result of cities not taking care of business when their liabilities outgrew their income. Our dire financial straits are not a surprise. Our council declared a fiscal emergency more than a year ago. There is no more time for delay.

Story First Published: 2013-02-13