Mon, June 24

Commentary: Budget priorities miss the mark for Cottonwood

Holly Grigaitis

Holly Grigaitis

Again, Cottonwood receives $84.9 million rainbows and unicorns in our 2018 budget. How can anyone distinguish reality from pure fantasy when we budget  $48 million more than spent during the previous year? How can any logical, reasonable, public official authorize spending with this slipshod, shotgun approach?  

To authorize gross overspending in an environment where internal controls are lacking, is a complete, total, dereliction of duty. It’s certainly how we racked up $99 million of debt (2016 CAFR, page 35), $14.6 million accrued during FY 2016.

Our “balanced budget” for 2018  includes an imaginary $8 million increase in general fund revenue, $16 millionmagically appears as revenue in our debt service fund,  $14 million extra wills itself into existence in the water and wastewater funds, and $10 million appears out of thin air to fund other miscellaneous funds. It would seem Cottonwood gained the powers of the federal reserve when they invested in liquid gold. Instead of printing dollars, Cottonwood pumps dollars out of the ground, then leverages them to create debt.

City officials are selling the public a budget that includes painful 3 percent operational cuts, while neglecting to tell you 2-6 percent raises for management  are also baked in the cake.  Pay increases over $700K  were deemed more crucial to vital city functions than $530K of “operational cuts.”  Besides, “operational” cuts consist mostly of frivolous travel and training allowances.  What city employee wouldn’t want more cold hard cash in their pocket instead of silly job training credits? C’mon!  THAT’S a no-brainer!

Additionally, consider this. In FY 2016 Cottonwood’s general fund took in a grand total in $19.1 million, but spent $19.7 million; $19.6 million is budgeted  for employee pay packages in 2018.

Yes, the largest “operational cut” includes not filling two vacant police positions ($154,375) while simultaneously allocating $150,000 for Thunder Valley Rally. But fear not, we’re going to raise the base package for new officers by $6500 to $83,600, even though we don’t plan on hiring new officers. That makes it better, right?

Given these facts, it was disheartening to read the editor’s commentary regarding the letter from Bob Williams. Any way you slice it,  Mr. Williams’ argument has much merit. Cottonwood is in dire need of honest, responsible leadership.   That, or a good-old fashioned intervention.  

It is absolutely true the TVR committee has massively increased TVR’s revenue.  At the close of 2016, Cottonwood shows a net TVR expense of only $26,082 for the calendar year. The TVR committee deserve kudos for massive strides in closing the gap.  However, the more practical among us, pause when Cottonwood’s books show they spent ZERO dollars on pavement preservation during the same time period.  Also,  during Fiscal Year 2016,  $99,016 was the city’s net cost for TVR, while only $5,359 was spent on pavement preservation. Editor, what’s more important?  Throwing bikers a party, or fixing the crumbling roads they’ll drive upon?

With all general fund revenue allocated to salaries, the city can only rely on grants (raising your taxes at the federal or state level), accruing new debts,  or stretching a mere $2 million of water/wastewater profits into covering 1.5 million in rec center debt payments, while funding the operations of all city departments (including police)and activities, including TVR.   

Suddenly, even a mere $26K seems like an awful lot of money, and the sacrifices Mr. Williams spoke of,  become crystal clear, don’t they?

Holly Grigaitis is a resident of Cottonwood.