DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA – In the same week that a citizens finance committee reinforced their stand that the city must reduce spending it was a different tune being sung at a special meeting of the city council.
For the third meeting in two weeks in which a city budget deficit was addressed, the city council heard a presentation aimed at convincing the council members – and later the public – that the only way to deal with the city’s financial crisis is to view everything as hunky dory and win voters over to the idea of increasing taxes and to spend $100,000 doing so.
Two council members and the mayor are up for re-election in November and budget deficits and increasing taxes are two subjects that do not fit well into their elections plans. So, voters must be properly educated.
This Saturday at a special meeting of the city council all three enthusiastically embraced the scheme by a city consultant geared towards changing city residents perception of the city, a perception the consultant said everyone had to admit was one – real or imagined – of city mismanagement and large spending mistakes.
“If the sign out front of a restaurant says hot beer, lousy food and terrible service, you don’t have a marketable message” said city resident Bruce Cravens acting as a facilitator plotting the council’s strategic plan.
Saturday’s presentation came on the heels of a citizens finance committee meeting illustrating panic at city hall, particularly for the incumbents. In four days leading up to that meeting, city council incumbents Mayor Yvonne Parks and Councilwoman Jan Pye issued four separate agendas in as many days, each with a different focus. The moving target continues to be their inability to balance the budget.
“It is obvious they are panicked over this situation,” said an observer who asked for their name to be withheld. “As soon as they set an agenda with what they think is a solution to their predicament its obvious they had to immediately rethink it and come up with another plan.”
Part of the problem for Parks and Pye and Councilman Scott Matas who act as a majority voting block on the city council is that they left out two key constituent groups when they voted to approve next years budget at a June 18, 2013 city council meeting.
Chamber of Commerce and Hotelliers Association Left Begging
Both the Chamber of Commerce and the city’s hotellier’s association showed up at the finance committee meeting to make belated pleas not to have their funding cut. Each came prepared with elaborate presentations effectively showing how their respective organizations benefit the city.
In the budget adopted by the council just a week ago that saw no cuts in top level city management pay, both marketing organizations suffered significant funding cuts and both were begging for salvation.
Finance committee members expressed love for both institutions but held firm that even more spending cuts by the city were necessary if the city is to avoid what all agree is a fiscal crisis in the next twelve to eighteen months.
If money is to be found for the two organizations, cuts somewhere else in the budget would have to be made was the conscientious of the committee. That was not a subject Parks and Pye were willing to address. Parks expressed her affinity for the organizations and then quickly steered the meeting away from the committee’s suggestion to find cuts. This continues the modus-operandi of the mayor in hoping for the best and ignoring reality.
Desert Vortex News
City Council Meeting Saturday 6/29/2013 @ 9AM
In order to make ends meet this year and deal with a $4.2 million budget deficit with just $4 million in reserves, the city is relying on one-time revenue projections provided by City Manager Rick Daniels after his proposal to burn through all of the city’s reserves in one year was rejected by both the city council and the citizen’s finance committee.
Daniels then came up with $2 million in revenue projections the finance committee rejected as it was based on imagined, not real, revenue. In a report to the city council, the citizen’s finance committee said it had “no faith” in the city manager’s projections.
The two politicians at the finance committee meeting both waffled on any suggestion that spending cuts are needed and are holding out for the same level of spending that has by all accounts put the city on a crash course with insolvency.
Parks and Pye Critical of Public Criticism
Both Parks and Pye went further by expressing hostility towards committee member comments that said the council has made no previous attempts to curtail spending excess, especially extravagantly high management salaries.
It this chorus of complaints continuing to hammer on the joint voting records of Park and Pye and Matas frivolously spending a quarter million dollars on a music festival that never happened, another quarter million dollars on a economic stimulus plan for a local hotel and millions more lost in economic development opportunity with developer bonds that were abandoned that requires the expense of propaganda for public education.
The three-hour Saturday meeting supposedly aimed at council “strategic planning” spent a considerable amount of time charting the expenditure of a $100,000.00 “public engagement” initiative. As political parlance, budget items specifying public engagement are what cities commonly consider to be city funding educational campaigns designed to convince voters of the need for new taxes and to shore up public support for besieged incumbents.
In order to balance the budget, the city is this year relying on grants that have not been yet granted and fees generated by projects that have not been approved by the Planning Commission and that have no entitlements or building permits. The expense of spending $100,000 is aimed at purchasing a smart set of smoke and mirrors.
High Cost for Buying Public Approval
Desert Vortex News
Council members Jan Pye and Russell Betts
The public education campaign of Cravens and company has the effect of passing right over any suggestion that spending should be reduced at city hall and attempting canceling the thought of replacing city leadership.
The city’s serious financial problems are to be ignored in favor Cravens’ marketing campaign reciting how wonderful it is to have new street paving, marveling over reconstructed storefronts in the downtown (where no new business has located in the past two years) and to endorse increases in compensation for city employees rather than across the board pay cuts for all employees as the citizens’ finance committee recommended.
In short, the plan is to pay for public relations putting blinders on the eyes of the public to the budget crisis and reelecting the incumbents while setting up a campaign fund in support of tax increase to be proposed shortly after this November’s election.
Balancing Budget on Wishful Thinking
Balancing the budget with wishful revenue was characterized by former city finance director Terrence Beaman as inappropriate when he spoke at previous finance committee meetings. Beaman’s comments came in response to finance committee questioning if he agreed with the city manager’s budget dependency upon anticipated revenue.
Shortly thereafter Daniels announced Beaman was leaving the employ of the city. Wrestling with the city’s day to day city finances will be a new Finance Director to be announced at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
It will be the second departure of a finance director in less than a year. Former finance director Jason Simpson also suddenly announced his resignation, taking a position in the finance department of the city of San Bernardino.
Two Said No
The need for fiscal reform is not as sudden as some want the public to believe. Council Members Russell Betts and Adam Sanchez predicted what appears to be this exact financial predicament the city now finds itself in. These two political allies with a reputation for being critical of city hall spending are the target of the wrath of the city manager who has engineered this financial mess the city now wallows in.
Last year Betts was joined by Sanchez as the two fiscal conservatives on the council voting no for the budget and the duo have continued to butt heads with the council majority of Parks, Matas and Pye over spending, against tax increases and pushing for all city contracts to go out to bid.
In a bit of irony, Parks, Matas and Pye, all Republicans, have turned out to be what the Republican Party calls typical tax and spend politicians. While Matas has been quick to deny that allegation, saying he has never once said he is in favor of more taxes, his cohorts of Parks and Pye say more in their silence.
“The problem,” said Betts, “is that you can’t print money, you don’t want to cut spending, you don’t want to admit the city is spending well beyond its means. The only option left open by this council majority is raising taxes.”