Budget vote postponed — speak out!

To the Editor:

I am relieved that some members of the Ridgecrest City Council refused to pass the proposed FY 2013-14 budget that the mayor was pressing for last Wednesday, considering that staff provided inadequate information — and even that only a few hours before the council was expected to vote on it.

The council has decided to bring the budget back for a vote on June 19, but the public deserves to know what is being proposed:

• The council is getting a pay raise in terms of total average benefits. If you factor in the cost of salaries, benefits of health care and retirement, each councilmember is paid an average taxable wage of $1,324 per month. This is a part-time position. When I was on the council, I repeatedly asked for the very expensive benefit and retirement packages to be eliminated. As we continue to live in austere times where everyone else makes sacrifices, this needs to be looked at. So far the council has not even been willing to put it on the agenda for discussion.

• Despite Parks and Recreation having fewer facilities and fields to maintain in the proposed budget (transferred back to the county), there have been no staff reductions. Also, Parks and Recreation salaries are going up more than $40,800. I hope part of that is not for the already high $138,209 parks and recreation director salary. The director’s position alone is now 20 percent of the total salary budget to maintain our parks and provide recreation programs for our youth.

• Our police force is being reduced by two officers. This is at the same time that we are facing a rise in crime, thanks to the state’s “realignment” efforts that closed state prisons and squeezed those criminals back out onto the streets (AB109).

• Tax revenues are down $563,000. Even our mayor has admitted the council members anticipate a drop in taxes and necessary adjustments later. So why are they not making fiscally responsible projections now and living within our means?

The budget is being built with no regard to public safety or service. There is no transparency in the process so the public doesn’t know what it is getting. The council cannot refute these facts — which have been documented by its own staff — but still has never publicly recognized the fact that we are in trouble financially.

It is obvious to everyone following the city budget process in detail that Measure L dollars are being used by the council to fund existing positions in the Police Department to free up dollars, not to pave our streets, but to fund other lower-priority functions in the city. Citizens have stepped up and asked to take on these park functions if allowed, like LeRoy Jackson Sports Complex that wasn’t in useable condition for the recent Matt Armstrong Soccer Tournament.

If any of this concerns you, I hope you attend next week’s meeting and express your opinion or write your council member now (e-mail all five at CityCouncil@ridgecrest-ca.gov).

Jerry Taylor

Story First Published: 2013-06-12