Tax Approval Key To Solvency & Survival, GT Officials Say

A complex of issues – monetary ones – have descended upon Walt Stanckiewitz in the last fortnight.
The proprietor of La Pasta Italia in the city of Grand Terrace, Stanckiewitz on August 10 stood as a mute witness to the closure of another Italian restaurant in the county’s third smallest city when Bonello’s New York Pizza, which was located at 22413 Barton Road, closed its doors and moved to a newer and larger location at 803 West Valley Blvd. in Colton.
While the departure of a competitor might otherwise be a positive development for someone in Stanckiewitz’s position, he did not see Bonello’s leaving in a positive light.
Stanckiewitz is also the mayor of 12,040-population Grand Terrace. An out-of-the-way, off-the-beaten track community on a high terrace overlooking Colton and San Bernardino that is nestled against a forlorn and isolated northern extension of Riverside County, Grand Terrace is a bedroom community with little in the way of pass-through traffic and an equal dearth of sales tax revenue-producing commercial development. And for Grand Terrace and Stanckiewitz, the financial challenges are mounting. When he became mayor almost three years ago, the city had 34 employees. With its sales tax base steadily eroding and the state of California having eliminated redevelopment agencies and depriving Grand Terrace of funding that was used to augment its municipal operations, the city has made drastic cuts for three years running and is now down to just twelve-and-a-half fulltime employees.
The loss of Bonello’s and the sales tax revenue it generated will put the city further behind the eight ball economically, even if a few of Bonello’s former customers elect to eat at Stanckiewitz’s restaurant instead of seeking pizza elsewhere such as in Colton or Riverside.
Stanckiewitz lamented the closure of Bonello’s as “almost tragic. I never really saw myself as being in competition with them,” he told the Sentinel. Nonetheless, Stanckiewitz said he did not think Grand Terrace’s situation had anything to do with the closure of the pizzeria. “I think that had more to do with the arrangement they had as a tenant with their landlord,” the mayor said. “They had applied to make the transition to the Colton location a while ago and the health department came back with their permit faster than anyone expected and boom, they were out of here.”
Even as he learned of Bonello’s actual defection across the city limits to Colton, Stanckiewitz was huddled with the senior ranks of Grand Terrace’s few remaining employees, drawing up the ballot statement for what the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters has designated will be Measure C. The city has until August 22 to put together the ballot statement language for Measure C. Any parties wishing to submit a statement opposing the measure must meet the same deadline.
Measure C is a proposal, put forth by the Grand Terrace City Council, asking Grand Terrace voters to impose on city residents a five percent utility tax.
The city’s financial condition has deteriorated to the point that its entire finance department, planning division, permitting, building inspection, and park maintenance staff have been outsourced. In passing the city’s 2013-14 budget, the city council dropped the services of one patrol deputy in the city’s contract with the sheriff’s department as of July 1 and incorporated provisional plans to dispense with another deputy as of December 1, close Pico Park and Rollins Park and the senior citizens center as of January 1.
If the city’s voters choose to pass the tax measure, the mayor said “Calculations are that it will generate between $1.39 million and $1.4 million per year.  We are particularly short staffed as it is, with just twelve-and-a-half city employees. If we do not get this tax passed, we will be down to 28 hours a week for most of our employees. I really hate to use the word draconian in describing this, but that is what it is. We can’t cut our way out of this mess. There is not enough to cut. With the budget we have in place and all the things that will take place on December 1 and January 1, our budget will be balanced but will not solve the problems. We really won’t have management of the city. Over fifty percent of the city function is contracted out. The bottom line if this does not pass is I see Colton, which surrounds us on three sides, exerting its sphere of influence. It may take a year or it may take two years but Colton will take over our city. That is just my thinking. I have not spoken with the members of the Colton City Council, but this is inevitable in my view if we do not get this tax in place.”
Stanckiewitz said. “If you go back to the beginning of the city, when the committee for incorporation applied,  the Local Agency Formation Commission said we did not have the tax base, the commercial base, to sustain ourselves. The commission opposed it, but the committee for incorporation had political connections and they were able to prevail on the board of supervisors to allow the city to form. The Local Agency Formation Commission in the end went along with it but in its report said the city needed to seek a utility tax within the first several years.  City officials never lived up to that and used redevelopment money to keep the city afloat for 30 years. Now the state has closed out redevelopment agencies and we are losing our commercial base. We are losing what we can’t afford to lose. We can’t be a bedroom community if we can’t afford to provide the needed services.”

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