Terry Lamphier: Before you vote on Measure E in Grass Valley
If you have not yet voted on Grass Valley’s Measure E, please read this — or, better yet, read the City of Grass Valley 2017-2018 Proposed Operating Budget, a document that arguably undermines all the arguments favoring the proposed new permanent tax (the City’s website did not have the approved 2017-2018 budget “online” as of this writing).
Where to begin? Perhaps the easiest for folks to grasp is the graph on page 16, illustrating that four of the coming six years under existing Measure N show budget surpluses netting an estimated $653,760. Or that the 2017/2018 budget showed, according to the report’s City Finance Director Andy Heath (page 8), that “the Measure N Fund will have approximately $1.44 million in Fund Balance on June 30, 2018. These funds may be appropriated for any Measure N related purpose in future fiscal years.” Or the statement that the City’s Pension Obligation Bond (debt) will be paid off in 2023, (likely increasing the budget surplus going forward). Proponents of Measure E notably do not address budget impacts from any “new hire” pension obligations.
The projected budget surplus would be even higher, but for the fact that the City is apparently not bound by federal government restrictions against entering into “back door” contract obligations before money is in hand (outlawed by the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974; Microsoft Encarta). The 2017/2018 budget, according to Heath, “anticipates spending approximately $9.0 million more than will be collected in revenues,” leading to one of the two projected “in the red” shortfalls over the next six years of budget projections. While much of the $9 million will be covered by existing funds, Heath notes that revenues of $11.8 million will fall short of budgeted $12.1 million in expenditures, for a shortfall of about $300,000.
Regarding new hires, proponents want Measure E funds for four new police officers, yet this year The Union has reported that the city hired three new officers on top of five recent hires which, using Measure E proponent Marty Lombardi’s number of 20 original officers, brings the total to 28. Yet tax proponents want to hire five more? To add to the confusion, the City’s 2017/2018 budget report shows 27 officers under combined General and Measure N funds. So how many do we have or will end up with? Depending on how you sort it, will we have either the apparently current 27 or 28, or another five for a total of 32 or 33?
Meanwhile, according to the report, both the police and fire department budgets show a budget increase of about 10 percent over the last four years, including funds for equipment upgrades.
Remember that $300,000 projected budget shortfall? In poring through the rest of the budget report, note that the City administers grant funds to be used for low interest loans, but has not issued any loans for the last four years, yet the program hits the budget for a cumulative $280,000.
Going forward, it would appear that taxpayers will soon need to make up shortfalls for several housing development “Improvement District” funds.
Economists have long pointed out that middle class housing does not pencil out in terms of revenues provided (property and sales tax) versus City provided services. Turns out that business parks aren’t all that good either. The City budget report notes that Whispering Pines, Litton Business Park, Ventana Sierra, Scotia Pines and multiple Morgan Ranch districts have been running deficits for years and initial fund balances all appear to likely be exhausted within the next year or two. Will the City stop services, go after residents in the districts or spread costs to all of us?
Before rolling out your wallet, due diligence suggests we hear from the City’s finance director and council members. While I’m sure they are happy to be in the background, hoping the measure will pass, they have a duty to taxpayers to be transparent and fiscally prudent, working for the best interests of all of us.
Meanwhile, Measure N seems to be working just fine and, with perhaps a little tweaking of the existing budget, our City’s future looks bright as is. As nice as it might be to have unlimited funds, remember the axiom that no matter how much you have, whether it be Grass Valley or Beverly Hills, it never seems to be enough.
Who would have thought that a “liberal” would be concerned about fiscal responsibility?
Terry Lamphier, a former Nevada County supervisor, lives in Grass Valley.
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