Staff prepares project list for more than $20M in TAB funds

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

The long-awaited Tax Alloca-tion Bond money is about to break through to the council level for review, discussion and final allocation, according to Ridgecrest City Manager Dennis Speer.

The city sold some $30 million in bonds through the now defunct Ridgecrest Redevelopment Agency in 2008. After the legal fees and housing set-aside, that left some $24 million for the city to spend on eligible projects — most of which related to improvements to infrastructure.

When California cities became embroiled with state leaders, the fate of that money was thrown into a state of legal flux. After years of lawsuits (with flip-flopping verdicts), voter initiatives and a 2012 piece of legislation that axed redevelopment altogether, the city has finally been authorized to spend that money.

The challenge now, according to Speer, is compiling multiple approval lists — some of which are conflicting, none of which are comprehensive — into a single plan for action for final review and approval by the council.

“Right now we have a little bit of a misconception about what has actually been approved by the council,” said Speer. “Right now we’ve got four different projects lists that have seen various actions by different councils.

“What we are doing right now is bringing all these projects into a single list to make sure there is no overlap and nothing missing. As soon as that’s approved, the city will be able to move forward fairly quickly with these projects.”

Some of the previous discussions have focused on how to divide up money — with streets, sewers and parks gaining the most vocal advocacy.

Speer said that the city will be presenting a plan that distributes some amount of money to each qualifying area of improvement, but noted that staff recommendations will also take into consideration how to leverage those resources to best effect.

“One thing that gets us a lot of bang for our buck is preserving streets before the have reached a failed condition. This saves money because it is exponentially more expensive to rehabilitate than rebuild,” by about a 10-to-1 ration. “But it also opens up a lot of matching funds, which grants us access to funding sources we might not otherwise have.”

The other important factor, he said, is not building a new facility that obligates you to longterm maintenance.

“One example of that is our parks, where we have been overextended,” said Speer. The city took severe criticism from the public over its inability to maintain various fields around town. Speer noted that the city budget lacked the resources to adequately maintain all of those assets. With that in mind, he said he would be looking at ways to improve existing facilities rather than building new ones.

It is unclear whether the city has carte blanche authority to designate projects, since one of the projects lists approved by a previous council was attached to the sale of the bond.

Speer said that the public will be invited to participate in the discussion when it comes before the council.

Story First Published: 2014-01-15