Measure L questions remains unanswered

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

With a proposed budget showing a reduction in spending on police and streets, members of the public have continued to call on city officials to show the benefit of a tax passed by voters last year. In promoting the tax measure last year, members of the council promised to spend the revenue on augmenting funding to public safety and street maintenance.

At Monday night’s meeting of the Measure L Citizens Oversight Committee, a member of the public pointed out that while two officers were cut from the force, as was one street-maintenance employee, zero positions were cut from parks and recreation.

Committee Member Andy Anderson said he is concerned that the proposed budget, which is scheduled for a vote next Wednesday, continues to levy a disproportionate level of cuts on police and streets, knowing that Measure L can simply backfill those services. Meanwhile, he said, parks and rec saw an increase in its salary costs. (See also related story, this page.)

“Generally, I like giving people the benefit of the doubt,” said Committee Member Michael Peterson. “But it’s getting harder and harder to do that.”

Committee Chair Eddie Thomas called last week’s council meeting an eye-opener and said that he did not believe the concerns expressed by the public were being taken seriously by the council. “But it’s still good for us to voice those concerns. That’s one thing they can’t take away from us.”

Citizen Mike Neel asked why the city appointed the oversight committee if the concerns expressed by that committee were going to be disregarded. “I can now say with confidence that the Measure L taxation promises were just what myself and many others knew they would be — worthless.”

Committee Member Phil Salvatore responded in an e-mail that when he challenged the honesty of the budget process, Mayor Dan Clark lied to him. “His own words and those of the other council members as recorded in the official minutes contradicts what he told me in public, to my face.

“The whole of the budget process was a sham. The minutes prove the council worked backwards from what they viewed as the money available from Measure L to fund roads and police then ‘cut’ roads and police disproportionately in the non-Measure L budget to keep parks and rec funded without making any hard decisions or cutting the ridiculously high pay of the P&R director, the city clerk, the city manager and the finance director,” continued the e-mail.

“All are paid more than a captain or a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, and none of them manage anything close to the budget or number of people a captain is responsible for, much less a rear admiral.

“There never was an executable budget without Measure L funds and for any member of the City Council to claim so is clearly dishonest. They broke their vow to the public and the committee in my view and have done so shamelessly and without the slightest sign of remorse,” wrote Salvatore.

“The council failed utterly to keep their word and you can see by my list of addresses I am not afraid to say so. Their actions have more than validated my opposition to the tax when it was up for a vote.”

Committee Member Scott Garver was absent for the meeting, but challenged Vice Mayor Chip Holloway’s comments at last week’s council meeting that building an executable budget without Measure L was unrealistic.

“They had one on election morning 2012, hours prior to Measure L being passed,” wrote Garver. He noted that was exactly one year to the day prior to Holloway’s statements.

“And it was only the very next day that the council felt they could start moving numbers around without believing they had an obligation to keep the discussions separate,” wrote Garver, referring to the dramatically different budget that was unveiled by the council after the passage of Measure L. The draft included Measure L money for parks and recreation, though that line item was removed after it was met by public outcry.

However, Garver stated, that was the beginning of the city’s trend in using Measure L funds to supplant, rather than augment, the funding support to police and streets — as promised to the voters.

“And the council hasn’t looked back, nor have they reconsidered that deeply flawed premise. What we end up with is what Phil and others are claiming as a backward allocation of Measure L money at the outset, then determining what departments get what out of the rest of the general fund,” wrote Garver.

“Actually, that now conveniently prevents them from doing what we as a committee had asked them to, and what a few had even tacitly agreed to, in providing a separate budget for Measure L.

“Now they claim their foot hurts, but they are the ones holding the gun.”

The next meeting of the Ridgecrest City Council is Wednesday, June 19. The Measure L Committee will meet Monday, June 24.

Story First Published: 2013-06-12