Sooner or later, reality rears its ugly head
May 16, 2014 | For years the city of Desert Hot Springs was run by a City Council in thrall to Mayor Yvonne Parks who watched over the city checkbook with a rubber stamp.
When Parks was finally defeated in the 2013 election (by 12 votes!) along with one of her cronies, she left the city teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, many, many millions in debt. She admitted she wasn't "good at numbers" and signed off on grandiose projects without even reading the contracts.
Budget shortfalls — and they were large and constant — were covered up by drawing down the city's reserve funds.
You might have thought she would lose by a landslide, but most of the gory details were kept shrouded in secrecy until after the election. That's when the sh*t hit the proverbial fan.
In April the local newspaper, The Desert Sun, carried the headline, "Desert Hot Springs has $450 in general fund". That's literally four-hundred fifty dollars, not thousands or millions.
When a city is down to $450 in the bank account, that's a cash-flow problem indeed. Indeed, a CASH-FLOW problem!
The new City Council and new City Manager (the old one, a Parks acolyte, moved on to another city to mismanage) have tried to figure out what to do.
They did lay off many city employees and gave the very generous city salaries a haircut.The garbage disposal company decided to make an early payment on their contract to give the city a cash infusion to tide them over.
In addition, the city placed a measure on the ballot for the upcoming election to raise additional funds by raising the property tax paid for vacant parcels, from $30 to $372. This is when the crazies came out from under their rocks.
Granted, there are a lot of empty parcels in the city limits, but my idea is that the tax increase will be a mere drop in the bucket of debt, even though it is a ten-fold increase. As a response to imminent bankruptcy, it seems wholly inadequate. And, the city has taken pains to point out that the increase will affect only vacant parcels, not those that have been developed. Nevertheless, vociferous opposition has sprung up with the rallying cry "Protect Prop 13." Prop 13!
As a taxpayer who pays $4000 a year on my parcel, I don't have a lot of sympathy for absentee landowners who are asked to pay $400 a year.
While I understand the impulses that led to the passage of Prop 13 back in 1978, that amendment has done great harm to the state. Too many people think you can drive a Cadillac Escalade while paying for a Chevrolet Sonic. The whole anti-tax thing has gotten totally out of hand in an atmosphere of financial ignorance fostered by the right wing.
The Inland Empire Taxpayers Association, funded by gawdknowswho, has littered city streets with signs on which "Prop 13" is displayed prominently just below "NO on F." In yesterday's mail was an 8½ x 11 inch full-color flyer on glossy paper sent by the same organization, warning voters not to be fooled by "scare tactics" — I'm not sure a bank balance of $450 is a "scare tactic." It ought to scare the hell out of people, but it is a fact, not a tactic.
They assail Measure F as "another tax increase with NO accountability," but I think mindless, ideological, dogmatic opposition is the height of non-accountability — or rather lack of responsibility.
Their claim that "Taxpayers have zero accountability with Measure F — city government can continue to spend tax dollars without regard to waste or abuse" would have been an appropriate charge when Parks approved deficit budgets year after year, when the city paid $265,000 for a music festival that never happened because the contract provided that the organizer be paid whether the concert was held or not. Other financial shenanigans are legion.
Last updated on Apr 29, 2016