Council discusses budget, Measure L

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Ridgecrest City Council heard two financial presentations during Wednesday night’s meeting – one from the Measure L Citizens’ Oversight Committee, another from City Manager Dennis Speer and Assistant Finance Director Tess Sloan regarding the 2017-18 proposed budget.

According to Measure L Committee Chair Jacqui Walters, “Measure L funds were allocated entirely as they were supposed to be” last year.

Measure L generated roughly $2.7 million during the 2015-16 year plus $1.1 million carried over from the year prior. The city spent $3.1 million total on public safety and public works. The remaining $662 thousand will roll over to 2017-18 before giving way to Measure V next fiscal year. Measure V increases the “police and streets” tax from three-quarters to 1 percent.

The report said that public safety received $1.8 million, inclucing salaries for roughly half of the Ridgecrest Police Department’s officers, an amount consistent with previous years.

The city spent $1.3 million on public works, including dozens of street surfaces being repaired, sealed and otherwise smoothed over. Expenditures are just shy of the the $1.5 million recommended for annual expenditure by the 2011 Public Works’ Pavement Management System study by Willdan Engineering.

Speer also delivered an over-view of the proposed budget goals, observations, challenges and priorities. The presentation did not include projected Measure V revenues or expenditures. Sloan presented the proposed budget itself which totaled $14.7 million, up about 1 million from last year.

New operational changes included $200,000 for a public works director, $175,000 in Proposition 172 funding for one police officer, and an $85,000 increase in the legal budget. The public works expenditure is because of Speer, who is currently acting as public works director in addition to his city manager responsibilities and retiring later this year.

Non-operational cost changes include nearly $1 million in catching up on self insurance, building permits and other obligations.

The proposed budget did not include potential spending pertaining to the Groundwater Sustainability Agency of which the city is a primary member. The uncertainty of groundwater sustainability costs has been a frequent topic ever since the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was passed in 2014.

Sloan also showed a comparison of the Ridgecrest budget to those of other similarly sized California cities, highlighting some of our financial struggles. Out of 13 cities with populations ranging from 23-30 thousand, Ridgecrest’s revenue was second lowest. after Sanger in Fresno County. Additionally, Ridgecrest still receives only 5.62 percent of its property taxes, the second lowest percentage of 11 Kern County cities.

Council has frequently asked staff to look into our city’s slim share of property-tax money, as well as opportunities for payment in lieu of taxes from China Lake.

The presentations will be available online, and the public can review the documents by visiting www.ridgecrest-ca.gov/ridge

crest-city-council. Public budget hearings are scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 30 and 31, at City Hall.

Story First Published: 2017-05-19