Grand Terrace Should Not Keep Voters In Dark On Finances, Robles Says

(October 12)  The Grand Terrace city council must fully apprise its constituents of the precarious financial state the city is in to form a consensus for a solution, council candidate Sylvia Robles says. If the city’s residents are willing to impose a tax on themselves, the city can maintain the current level of services, she said. If there is not a collective will to use a taxing mechanism, the council then must make further reductions at City Hall, she said.
“The major issues facing Grand Terrace are fiscal solvency and rising residential crime and car thefts,” Robles said. She said the city is hamstrung in how to deal with those problems because from the outset it has faced financial challenges and the past and current city leadership has not formulated an effective strategy for overcoming those financial obstacles.  “Grand Terrace, according to a city commissioned study, was approved for cityhood by the Local Agency Formation Commission in 1978 even though the property tax projections were not solid. Property taxes are the principal source of funding for cities. The passage of Proposition 13 [which capped property tax rates on residences] further complicated matters. The city began to delve into using tax-increment financing, also known as redevelopment agency (RDA) powers to siphon property tax revenues that would have gone to other local taxing agencies and schools to augment city revenues and speculate with tax dollars ways to increase sales tax by giving financial entitlements to developers. Some have stated that schools were made whole via pass-through agreements and did not suffer from RDA tax shifts. The reality is that since schools were guaranteed financing via Proposition 98, pass-through agreements were not vigorously negotiated. The Colton Joint Unified School District is facing a substantial deficit. The local financing scheme is impaired.”
Robles said the city’s past reliance on redevelopment funding has complicated things.
“Redevelopment agencies were abolished by Assembly Bill 26x and Assembly Bill 27x last year,” she noted. “Grand Terrace has enough fund balance to wind down its RDA projects and to help pay for staff. The city also floated $20 million in bonds for infrastructure improvements in the southwest section of the city zoned for commercial development. However, ongoing economic malaise and the fact that the state denied any land assembly funding makes it highly unlikely in the near term that the city will be able to generate investment in that area. The city owes the redevelopment agency $3.1 million dollars. We only have a general fund of roughly $3.5 million, when you include all other sources of revenues, such as other funds of $3.4 million, capital projects of $2.6 million and residual RDA funding for the operational budget of $4.5 million, for a total is $13.9 million through all funds.  That number does not account for instances like child care and wastewater accounts, in which fees collected are almost equal to expenses. Out of the general fund we pay for public safety, public works, park maintenance and a full-time city manager, finance director, public works director, city clerk and city attorney and other administrative staff. We have only about two years fund balance to support this level of city government.
We have an estimated Fund Balance of $810,000 and that may be cut to $510,000 depending on a state ruling on residual receipts for low-income housing. “To explain what I would do for Grand Terrace and how I can distinguish myself from the other candidates, I would say that I fully understand that Grand Terrace cannot grow itself out of this fiscal crisis,” Robles said. “Time is not on our side. New retail, including the Town Center, which is anchored by Stater Bros and includes a new Miguel’s Drive Thru, has generated in aggregate less than $90,000.
I have experience balancing budgets during recessionary times. I worked for San Bernardino County’s special districts department, when the state, which was unable to meet its obligation to fund schools, took back state support from many of our districts including fire. In government a budget analyst recognizes that salaries and benefits typically make up 85% of the budget. Any meaningful savings must come from cuts in staff. The city has incrementally cut staff and is in balance for now. But structural change must be implemented.”
Robles said the current city council is courting disaster by failing to make clear to the city’s residents what is at stake in the effort to put the city’s financial house in order. Hiding the problem from those who will be asked to carry the financial burden will not solve the problem and likely create anger at City Hall that will render the problem even harder to deal with, she said.
“The City Council has been meeting in closed session since at least last December to discuss a utility tax, declaring a fiscal emergency and meeting with unrepresented staff,” she said. “It is my experience that the voter must be in on the crisis, a part of the dialogue and a partner in seeking alternatives and solutions. If this council expects to weather this election cycle and then unveil a ‘fiscal crisis’ and proposed utility tax, I expect that trust with the voters will be the hardest asset to regain.”
Robles said Grand Terrace’s fiscal condition will require an increase in revenue in the form of taxation or drastic cuts. “All redevelopment-like legislation was vetoed by the governor,” she said. “Unless, voters are quick to approve a utility tax, Grand Terrace must live within its means. I propose via attrition to transfer those savings to restoring the traffic officer position cut from our law enforcement contract. We can do this immediately by not filling the $173,000 redevelopment agency director position. It is my preference to replace current top managers with less expensive positions as natural attrition occurs. The timeline is short. But, the reality is we are a city of only 12,000 residents and core municipal services must be funded. To me that is public safety, park maintenance and support of youth sport leagues.”
The council should not delude itself that everything will just naturally take care of itself, Robles said, and should prepare to bite the bullet and ready itself for the worst. “If the City Council fails to convince voters to approve a new tax, we must have a plan,” she said.
Born and raised in San Bernardino, Robles has a BA degree in business management from the University of Redlands and a Master’s Degree in public administration from Cal State University, San Bernardino.
She is a 35-year resident of Grand Terrace. Married, she has three adult children.
Robles is retired from a 25-year career with the county of San Bernardino, having spent five years in social services, seven  as a field representative for former Supervisor Barbara Riordan and 13 years as a staff budget analyst and supervisor of the budget section.

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