There’s good news in the City of Antioch’s fiscal year 2015-16 budget, due to some unexpected one-time sales tax funds from the state and an extension of a grant for police, creating a $448,000 surplus. However, there is something that has me concerned when reviewing it.
The city budget includes line items labeled “transfers out” in pretty much all departments. In each of the sewer and water funds, over $600,000 per year is transferred out.
When staff was asked by Ogorchock, at the May 12 council meeting, where those funds were going, part of the answer from City Finance Director Dawn Merchant was that a couple hundred thousand was being spent on police. Turns out, the actual figure is $319,000 from each of the two funds is being spent on police.
How does city staff and city council justify spending water and sewer funds on police? Are they guarding the pipelines, now?
Not exactly. But that’s close to what Merchant said was the reason.
“They’re protecting the water and sewer plants and pump stations,” she shared in a recent phone interview. “It’s a small percentage of the police department’s budget.”
That’s equivalent to the cost of four police officers per year, which the city needs. But, police should be paid for out of the General Fund and the additional police from Measures C and O funds. Plus, those amounts are in addition to other charged to both of the two departments’ funds.
Even more is charged to the two funds
The amount “transferred out” of the water fund, is a third of the $1,026,051 charged separately for “internal services,” such as administrative oversight. For the sewer fund, there’s an additional $221,159 charged separately, also for internal services.
Merchant argued that those amounts are based on a “cost allocation plan for every department,” based on a study done by an independent consultant.
The transfers out for police has been approved by the city council for at least four years, Merchant stated.
It’s been happening for years
Shortly after being forced out as City Finance Director, John Tasker shared with me, in 2008, that the city had been transferring out too much money from the sewer and water funds, for administrative costs. At that time the figure was about $500,000 per year and he said that no more than $300,000 was justified.
Now it’s worse.
Maybe it’s only been going on this long, because no council member questioned staff about it, before now.
It’s a serious stretch to justify the equivalent of paying for four police officers to guard the water and sewer plants and pump stations. The city council doesn’t have to approve those transfers out for police, and frankly shouldn’t.
Taking money away from its intended purposes
The impact of the transfers out, is that money won’t be there when the city needs it to expand, repair or upgrade the sewer or water systems in Antioch. So, in order to ensure there is enough money, the staff recommended and the city council raised our rates, again. According to Public Works Director Ron Bernal, one of the reasons for those increases is for – you guessed it – additional capacity purposes.
I believe this is just another example of the old legal money-laundering game governments can play. They spend the money intended for one budget item – which is a need and basic priority and responsibility of local government, such as police, roads, sewer or water – and then come back to us taxpayers and say they don’t have enough money for these vital items, and ask us for another tax increase. Don’t you find it interesting they never ask us for a special tax for non-essential items?
Council increases water and sewer rates, again
That’s exactly what our city council just did. On top of the two general tax increases we voters approved in the past few years – Measures C and O – the council just voted to raise our sewer and water rates, again.
Plus, they passed by 4-1, with Ogorchock voting against, tiered water rates, so the more you use the more you’ll pay per gallon. Is one gallon of water more expensive than another? I don’t think so.
When is enough, enough with these council members? We need them to ask the tough questions of staff and understand there’s a limit to how much we taxpayers/ratepayers can afford to keep paying.
When the final budget is adopted for the new fiscal year, later this month, I would hope the city council ends this financially irresponsible shell game and use the money in the sewer and water funds for their intended purposes. They need to pay for those fourr police officers out of Measure C and O funds, as we the people who passed them expected, and with the projected budget surplus. Leave the sewer and water funds where they belong.