I have appreciated our open lines of communication in the past and the opportunities you have provided the Town to discuss matters affecting the community. I heard your editorial this morning and have the following observations:
1) Bullying Public to Support a Sales Tax: The Measure U election occurred LAST November. Had the Town made cuts to programming last year, perhaps an accusation could have been made that the cuts were scare tactics to drive support for Measure U. Such cuts were not made last year and they would have been justified last year. We actually tried to insulate the community from such cuts to avoid such accusations of scare tactics or bullying. Now that the election is over and we don’t have the additional revenue coming to our General Fund, we are obligated to balance our budget! Put another way, elections have consequences.
2) Timing of Cuts: Your editorial also implied that these two programs were selected for cutting to deliver the most pain to the residents (“petty and misguided”, “cuts were done more to publicly punish”), while delivering little savings. These two programs were brought forward this past meeting because they require immediate decisions for hiring of seasonal staff, scheduling of performance talent, etc. These will not be the only service impacts to the community – but they may likely be the first.
3) Organization Has Structural Deficit : As we discussed at great length at the Town Council meeting, we face a budget deficit from $400,000 to upwards of $1,000,000 depending upon policy decisions from the Town Council. While they have already made some decisions that will lessen the “deficit” in FY 13/14 (like no General Fund $$ towards road maintenance), that structural deficit remains.
4) Cuts Are Unavoidable: What your editorial fails to acknowledge is that the Town has been taking responsible steps to avoid such service cuts to the community. We have exhausted cost savings measures that don’t reduce service levels:
a. In prior Fiscal Years, the Town reformed its benefits program, employees picked up their FULL SHARE of retirement costs (8% of gross salary) without it being offset by a Cost of Living Adjustment;
b. The Town implemented a 2-tier retirement system that reduces the long-term costs and liabilities of new employees;
c. The Town brought forward a revenue measure to the citizens seeking their support to provide the Town resources to address Sewer, Streets, & Safety. We weren’t kidding when we told the community we needed 1% sales tax for 30 years;
d. The organization has had a series of layoffs and early retirements – eliminating much of the Town’s mid-management and supervisory staff;
e. The Town allocated CDBG funds to Code Enforcement to reduce the burden on the General Fund. The Town has aggressively gone after additional funding sources to deliver services.
5) Seeking Outside Funding: Your editorial also missed the fact that the Town Council action directed staff to seek outside funding to continue the two programs being cut. We would love to have Z107.7 support as we approach other agencies to contribute to the costs of our services that benefit the entire basin, not just the residents of our Town.
a. The Summer Concert series is a great example of a Basin event – not just a Town activity. The 1,250 attendees per concert come from all over the basin;
b. The Town Council Ad-Hoc committee is meeting with Supervisor Ramos to see if the County could assist in funding a number of Town funded services / events that benefit the region. These include: 4th of July, California Welcome Center/DRTA/Chamber of Commerce, library subsidy, Hi-Desert Nature Museum, ballfield maintenance, etc.
c. Given the redevelopment agency dissolution, the County General Fund is receiving more property taxes from the Town and we believe those funds should remain in the Town to benefit the residents.
d. The same is true with the Morongo Unified School District. The Town currently provides services & facilities to MUSD and we receive little compensation for those investments. Our juvenile officer spends considerable time on the High School campus – at a full year cost of $200,000 – and the district contributes $25,000. The pool is on the high school campus, is used by the high school swim team (they pay $40 per hour to use – which doesn’t cover the full costs), and yet the Town operates, maintains, pays the utilities, etc. for maintaining this asset.
Gary, while the message is simple — we have to live within our means – The challenge is complex in that we have a significant structural deficit. There are going to be many more cuts to services than the two that were brought forward at this time. We have an infrastructure cliff that we’re heading towards by continuing to not invest adequate funds into road maintenance. The Town Council once again has taken a responsible step at addressing this issue and directed staff to bring forward a ¼% sales tax for roads (along with the ½% for sewer). While this will address the roads, it won’t be able to address the other structural issues with the organization.
Your editorial admonishes the Town Council to represent the people – they are doing just that by demanding a balanced budget! You accuse the Town Council of playing small town politics when, in fact, they are doing the responsible thing and making difficult decisions that were previously kicked down the road. I would suggest this issue cannot be encapsulated by an editorial position of Z107.7 wherein future tragedies were laid at the feet of the Town Council – doing that was small town politics and irresponsible.
Thank you for taking the time to read this response and I’m happy to come on the air anytime to discuss the Town’s issues. Name the time & date and I’ll be there.
(this is an email sent to Z107.7 earlier in the day)