Seeing red in a sea of green (Valles)

Citing a $2.6 million budget shortfall, the Apple Valley Town Council unanimously approved reductions in employee compensation and benefits last week. However, that only produces $455,000 in savings and Town Manager Doug Robertson is hinting at cuts in services to make up the rest.

The same council that routinely attends useless junkets and trips at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars each year voted to cut rank-and-file employee compensation — but didn’t cut any of their expenses. And the town manager that gets paid more than $300,000 a year and has four assistant town manager positions under him did not include himself or his senior staff in the cuts, although he is quoted saying, “If it comes to that…” Why hasn’t it come to that Doug if you are still short the cash?

That sounds about right.

Councilwoman Barb Stanton called it a “tough day” and said that “we’re going to do whatever it takes to be fiscally sound” in the Daily Press. However, Stanton is arguably the biggest waster of your tax dollars.

“Boeing” Barb Stanton has taken 21 taxpayer-funded plane trips since January 2015 at a cost of $7,500. She has spent countless thousands more on hotels, meals and other travel-related expenses. On top of that, taxpayers have paid for her personal cell phone bill since 2011 at an approximate cost of $10,000 and climbing.

In a previous column, I wrote about how Stanton and all the other Council members attend an annual conference designed for new mayors and council members year after year. It is a total waste of money. And, they also attend other conferences of dubious value each year. Additionally, many of these senior executive-level employees are also attending on our dime.

It is always fascinating to me when elected officials and town managers talk about fiscal accountability and the need to make cuts. The Council did not cut their salary or benefits. They did not vote to put a moratorium on their travel to conferences. And Robertson did not suggest that any of the senior executives take a salary cut nor did he offer to cut back on his top-heavy staff.

I would argue that most cities and towns of our size have a city manager and one assistant city manager. Why does Apple Valley need four? It is ridiculous.

Let’s be crystal clear here. Apparently, the town is $2.6 million in the red. Their solution is to cut services and reduce rank-and-file employee benefits and compensation. However, elected officials and senior staff all avoided having to bear the brunt of any reduction in their salaries, benefits or perks.

We spend $1.3 million a year on the town manager and his four assistants. These five individuals earned between $151,000 and $340,000 in 2016. The top 30 highest paid employees, including the previously mentioned managers, all earn more than $100,000. Their total compensation is approximately $5 million.

All of this in a town where the average household income is around $50,000 a year. That is household income — not per capita.

Stanton also said that some employees “may have to tighten their belts for a short time.” No kidding. But apparently, it won’t be her or any of the other elected officials that have been running this town for years, nor will it be any of the senior staff that have also made the recommendations and decisions that have cost us financially.

If elected officials and town managers are going to talk about fiscal accountability and belt-tightening then they should be the first ones to step up and lead by example. After all, it was their leadership and choices that put us into this mess.

But more to the point, taxpayers should be asking how it is that we even have a $2.6 million budget shortfall to begin with.

If you look at the “financial outlook” section of the 2017-18 adopted budget, the town manager writes: “Apple Valley’s economy has continued to show signs of slow sustained growth. Permit activity has continued to increase and building and construction activity has improved. Per local realtors, multiple offers for homes available for sale is becoming more commonplace. This increased real estate activity is an indicator of improved market demand and pricing pressures that will cause home prices to rise in the near future. However, property tax revenue increases typically lag market activity by about 18 months.”

Do you know what the previous town manager Frank Robinson wrote in the 2016-17 adopted budget regarding the town’s financial outlook? The exact same thing — literally word for word.

Do you know what he wrote in the 2015-16 and 2014-15 adopted budgets regarding the town’s financial outlook? Almost a word for word copy. I am not making this up.

So, going back to at least 2014 where I stopped looking, Apple Valley has been experiencing slow and sustained economic growth. The stock market is booming and at historic highs. Home prices are at or near historic highs.

The Apple Valley Council wants us to believe they are capable of operating a water company and golf course cheaper? God help us all!

And yet, the leaders making the decisions have now put us into a $2.6 million dollar hole. We don’t have a revenue problem in Apple Valley. We have a leadership problem.

If you have suggestions on subjects or comments please contact me at [email protected]

Source: Angela Valles, Apple Valley Review