Council moves $60K back to Measure V

By REBECCA NEIPP

News Review Staff Writer

As a show of good faith, a majority of the Ridgecrest City Council voted Wednesday night to reimburse Measure V with the $60,000 that was used several budget cycles ago to leverage transit grants.

Although the city officials pledged to preserve revenues raised through the special Measure V tax to address roads and public safety, a previous council OKd the use of those funds to help procure about half a million in transit grants.

“We have said as a council that we were not going to do that in the future,” said Councilwoman Lindsey Stephens. “But I think to fully remedy, we should reimburse the $60,000.”

Councilman Wallace Martin said he agreed that the city benefited from using that money to help procure grants, but acknowledged that it might set a bad precedent.

“It was a fabulous return on investment for the city,” he said. “But as a matter of setting the record straight, it’s a good idea to put it back.”

Councilman Mike Mower said that it seemed like the city was just played a shell game. “What happens if we find we are short money for a police officer?” In that event, he said, the city would essentially just be taking the same amount of money from the same fund that was being made whole.

Scott Hayman said that whether the money was spent for good reason or not, he was concerned about the potential erosion of public trust in the council.

“This was brought to my attention today by a constituent,” he said. Hayman added that this constituent was reluctant to support the city’s proposed parks assessment for reasons that came down to a lack of trust in the city.

“Clearly, that money was a benefit to the city,” said Hayman. “Politically, probably not so good. The public wants to see us use money for exactly what we say we are going to do.”

Concerns regarding the city’s use of specific-purpose funding – like Measure V, and before that, Measure L – were used as grounds to oppose the assessment during last month’s council discussion.

Both measures added extra revenue to the general fund for purposes of street maintenance and public safety, but opponents have criticized the city for using the money to increase general fund spending as a whole.

Critics also say the city has used the money disproportionately to support the Police Department, leaving less than promised for road maintenance.

The city said early on that the funds would not be used for any sort of salaries, but Measure V now funds more than a dozen personnel for the Ridgecrest Police Department.

“I understand the sensitivity,” said Mayor Peggy Breeden. “I think it’s just moving money that doesn’t change anything except a perception that is not fair and not real.”

She said that the staff and council did nothing wrong with the previous expenditure. “I will not admit to doing anything wrong … I will understand the public’s perception and accommodate that.”

City Manager Ron Strand said that it would be too complicated to reopen the books of fiscal year 2017 and try to change the ledgers, but he said the city can reallocate money into the general fund partitioned for Measure V expenditures.

The action passed with a 4-1 vote of the council, with Mower dissenting.

Story First Published: 2019-03-08