City Finances Complicate Election Bid
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA – Desert Hot Springs Mayor Yvonne Parks finds herself forced into a campaign make-over as she vies for reelection amid dismal performance numbers on crime, city finances and new retail development. It is a make-over that goes so far as to peel years off her age in a picture appearing in her campaign mailers.
During her first term in office, Yvonne Parks benefited from an actual reduction in violent crime due largely to efforts of former Police Chief Patrick Williams who marshaled resources from several law enforcement agencies for a gang sweep in 2007. However, those numbers, especially violent crime, have steadily risen, the result of the city’s inability to fund its police department. Violent crime is up 2% according to data available from a Unified Crime Report (UCR) compiled by the city and reported to the FBI.
City finances throughout Yvonne Parks tenure as mayor have shown a steady decline marked by five years of deficit spending according to a report issued in June 2013 by an independent financial consultant to the city, Urban Futures.
The city’s financial situation, said the report, is so bleak the city will run out of cash reserves by Spring of 2014. Urban Futures explained this is the result of an ongoing structural budget deficit for the past five years with no action taken to correct it by Yvonne Parks as mayor.
“You don’t have a plan. You have a plan to hope but you don’t have a plan,” said Michael Busch of Urban Futures at a May 30, 2013 presentation on city finances to Yvonne Parks and the rest of the city council.
The city faces a $4 million deficit with only $4 million remaining in city savings (reserves) to cover city operations in 2013. In 2012, the city used $1.1 million of it’s savings to make it through the year. The $4 million deficit in 2013, said Busch, is the result of the city running out of one-time revenue it had been using to get by.
At the request of Yvonne Parks, Busch included several new tax options for the city council to consider. Those included raising taxes that would be imposed by the city on electric bills, phone bills, water bills and sewer bills, otherwise known as a utility tax.
Other new tax measures presented to the city council by Yvonne Parks include a new city sales tax, increased property tax and a new 911 surcharge imposed on homeowners and businesses.
The trouble in funding the police department, and in the budget, stem largely from an inability to attract new retail stores to the city, this despite the city spending over $1 million over three years on an aggressive economic development plan.
Creating a city of dollar stores
That plan included the hiring of an economic development consultant, Michael Bracken of Development Management Group at a cost of $10,000 per month.
So far, Michael Bracken has managed to produce only a single dollar store located on the city’s main commercial corridor. A second dollar store, just now going through the permit approval process and scheduled to be built on the corner of Palm Drive and Fourth Street, was also brought to the city by Michael Bracken.
While any store is welcome in a city that by all accounts is seriously lacking in retail shopping, the sales tax revenue generated by the dollar store, a Dollar General outlet, is only an estimated $69,000 per year, hardly enough to make a dent in the city’s $4 million deficit in 2013.
Added to those retail shopping problems, the city has seen several retailers exit the city, including Burke’s Outlet. Burke’s was a 10,000 square foot clothing and household goods retailer with 12 years in the city.
The city also invested over $5 million in a plan to revitalize its downtown retail district. In that plan spearheaded by Yvonne Parks, the city purchased an entire block of the city’s downtown for renovation. Five years after that renovation was completed, the retail spaces remain empty where previously several long established retailers were in place.
Meanwhile, Yvonne Parks on the campaign trail has for understandable reasons ignored the numbers. Instead she has produced a campaign mailer (the one with her heavily altered photo) that shows a much rosier and vibrant picture of the city. It is the picture Michael Busch said is a “plan to hope” but not a picture that accurately reflects the city’s dire financial condition.
For over 40 years Dean has been published in a variety of small newspapers and magazines. As publisher he founded an alternative city weekly newspaper in 2008 and published over 200 uninterrupted issues over 4 years to over 20,000 readers via 800 locations (and online) before selling the business. Now online with over 3 million readers worldwide.
Dean is a Master Carpenter and the author of the biography of Hilda M Gray, desert homesteader. He served as Planning Commissioner for the city of Desert Hot Springs from January 2014 to January 2015 when he resigned.
Dean M Gray is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors and lives in Palm Desert, California.