Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 9, 2006

Why didn’t city officials present all the budget options?

I find it ironic that Morgan Hill City Councilman Greg Sellers disparagingly cited a Republican tactic — repeating something often enough until people believe it; Sellers mentioned WMDs — that he alleged Redevelopment Agency critics employ, and then used another of President Bush’s favorite tactics himself.

Sellers implied in his recent guest column that the reason City Council didn’t offer suspending or eliminating the RDA as a budget solution during its recent community conversations was the same reason that they didn’t consider eliminating the fire department. A few sentences later, he distanced himself from equating the RDA and public safety.

It reminds me of what Bush does with the terrorist acts of Sept. 11 and the Iraq war, two non-related events that he often mentions in the same sentence.

The real reason Sellers didn’t consider eliminating the fire department is that he doesn’t have one to eliminate. Morgan Hill’s fire services are outsourced to the county and to the CDF.

Suspending or eliminating the RDA is a valid option for nearly eliminating Morgan Hill’s million-dollar fiscal woes, one that does not raise taxes or eliminate services, yet City Council did not present it to residents during the recent community conversations.

It’s fair to ask: Why? So far, I haven’t seen an answer.

Sellers likens the RDA to college savings plans, which are wonderful investment tools for people who can afford them. But when a family is having trouble with the basics — things like filling the gas tank, putting food on the table, making the rent, buying medication or keeping kids in shoes and clothes — a college fund is a luxury that they skip.

If the city is having trouble paying its bills — and it admits that it is, to the tune of $1.5 million a year (that shortfall is why we had those community conversations) — then the RDA is a luxury that it might not be able to afford.

Some families experience temporary tough times — perhaps someone is laid off and can’t find a job for a while — and in those cases, suspending payments to college funds are one of the first places they save money.

If the city’s fiscal woes are likely to be short term, why not consider suspending the RDA for a few years until the city’s fiscal picture brightens?

In his column, Sellers asserted that Morgan Hill’s RDA is better managed than any other. I don’t know how any other communities’ RDAs have been run, but I do know this: Morgan Hill’s RDA has built numerous facilities that the city can’t afford to operate. Perhaps the residents of Morgan Hill would have been willing or able to subsidize operation of one or two facilities, but more? That’s asking a lot of a community this size, and, I suspect, is evidence that the people deciding to build all those facilities were not making the best management decisions.

Those people are Morgan Hill’s City Council members, who also serve as directors for Morgan Hill’s RDA.

Yes, I know, the city’s visioning process identified those facilities as important to residents. Just because you want something doesn’t mean you can afford it. It’s the job of RDA directors/City Council members to make those difficult choices.

But even if you believe that building every one of those general-fund draining facilities was the correct decision (and I’m not conceding that point), that still doesn’t mean that suspending or eliminating the RDA isn’t the right decision now.

If Morgan Hill suspends or eliminates its RDA, those facilities won’t disappear. For better or worse, we’re stuck chlorinating, filtering and pumping pool water and lighting, heating, cooling and staffing those facilities.

But if we suspend or eliminate the RDA, the city’s budget shortfall almost completely disappears, without laying off one police officer (one of the no-tax-increase consequences that was prominently featured during the community conversations), without deferring maintenance or shutting off sprinklers at one city park, without canceling one recreation class, without ignoring one pot hole.

So for all of Sellers’ rhetoric about fire departments and college funds, if you read his recent guest column closely, you’ll notice he did not answer the question: Why didn’t the city present citizens with the option of suspending or eliminating the RDA during the community conversations?

Maybe residents would have evaluated the RDA and decided that it’s worth keeping, even though suspending or eliminating it would be a relatively painless fix for the city’s budget deficit. Maybe residents would have decided that they’ve derived enough benefit (or pain, depending on your point of view) from the RDA and recommended suspending or eliminating it.

I just don’t understand why city officials didn’t ask.

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Responses

  1. […] I’ve asked difficult questions about how Morgan Hill Redevelopment Agency funds have been spent, people have jumped to the […]


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