To the Editor: Urges careful use of Measure L

The Ridgecrest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) was reviewed at the March 15 city council meeting. CAFR clearly shows that in just the two last years more than $2 million of Mea-L funding has found it way into the city general fund to increase the GF balance. The priority for Mea-L funding is police and roads. The GF is not a funding priority.

The FY16 CAFR shows that actual FY16 revenue exceeded expenditures by $1.7 million. Also, FY15 revenue exceeded expenditures by $1.3 million. Eliminating the $750K in revenue from a one-time sale of property, the two-year excess revenue was $2.25 million.

The operating budget generally underestimated revenue and overestimated expenditures. Consequently, the operating budget significantly overestimated the Mea-L funds needed to keep the police fully funded. But the CAFR is the after-the-fact audited budget, and it provides a clear picture. The police are fully funded with a balanced budget. The police received excessive funding.

Budget reconciliation at the end of the fiscal year could identify and correct this error if the council participated in the process. Unfortunately, councilmembers have shown no interest in doing so. The important question regarding Mea-L funding of police is not how much was spent on police or how much was planned to be spent on police. The important question is how much was needed to keep police whole. The current practice is legal, but it is money laundering, and it is contrary to council pledges regarding Mea-L funding utilization.

Theft from the wastewater fund created a GF negative balance. This caught the attention of the state auditor’s office and put our city on the Top 10 list for cities in financial peril. We are being watched by the state so we need to steadily increase the fund balance to a positive number. That does not mean we need to apply a million dollars a year of road funds to GF deficit reduction. Steady improvement is all that is needed. The GF now has a positive fund balance due mostly to a large influx of Mea-L funds.

The most tragic part of this fiasco is the plight of the wastewater fund. The GF balance increases by either increasing fund assets or decreasing fund liabilities.

The city’s total cash assets are now more than $5 million, while little effort has be made to pay off the wastewater note. In the meantime the wastewater ratepayers are getting one rate increase after another. The laundered revenue from Mea-L has been used to build a GF cash reserve rather than pay back the theft of the wastewater funds.

Erroneous budgeting and lack of council interest in year-end budget reconciliation has led to $2.25 million of Mea-L funds disappearing into the GF during FY15 and FY16. When you see Mayor Breeden or Councilmen Thomas or Mower around town, I recommend you ask them why they are not taking their pledge regarding the use of Mea-L funds seriously.

Stan Rajtora

Story First Published: 2017-04-07