It is official: The Apple Valley “Block of Five” Town Council not only accrued a $2.5 million budget shortfall, but it has also burned through our entire emergency reserve fund which was confirmed in an email exchange with Doug Robertson, our newly hired town manager tasked with cleaning up the Council’s mess.
According to Robertson, the unrestricted/undesignated general fund reserves, as of the 2012 audit, were $9,200,506. By 2017, that number had dwindled to $1,766,647. The most recent public number in February was a $501,000 reserve — but that has been decimated due to severance payouts provided to the bloated senior executives Robertson had to lay off.
You see, in the public sector, senior executives get paid no matter how incompetent they are or even when they don’t work. Former Assistant Town Manager Dennis Cron was paid more than $200,000 in 2016 even though he retired in December of 2015. Cha-ching!
This “Block of Five” votes in lockstep and they have all been on the Council since 2012. They have squandered our entire savings account during a massive economic boom. If the Council can’t run our town during a time when real estate prices and property taxes are at historic highs, the stock market is breaking records and unemployment is down, then when can they ever run this town properly?
Town Manager Doug Robertson told the Daily Press that they were looking at temporarily suspending a 401(a) retirement plan for employees and shuttering Virginia Park to cover the shortfall. The 401(a) retirement plan is nearly identical to the private sector’s 401(k) plan. This means that workers can voluntarily divert pre-tax income and put it in their retirement accounts. Many, but not all, companies will match an employee contribution to this fund.
In Apple Valley, town employees can allocate money to their 401(a) and the town will match it. Now, think about this for a second. Not only do these employees get a very generous pension with CalPERS that you pay for, they are also getting a secondary retirement plan. Robertson should permanently end the 401(a) matching contribution. Speaking of retirement plans: Even the Council members are enrolled into CalPERS and earn a free pension for life. What a scam!
Let’s talk about Virginia Park. It costs $64,000 to operate it on an annual basis and at a recent Council meeting, town staff proposed closing it. To my knowledge, no members of the Council have publicly opposed this closure.
Talk about a shameful and disgusting lack of leadership on the part of this Council. These are the same individuals that spend thousands on an annual conference in Sacramento that is specifically designed to help “New Mayors and Council members” even though all of them were elected to office years ago and have attended it multiple times.
If you look at this year’s budget for the Council, you will see the following expenses: an auto allowance of $34,200, funding for meetings and conferences totaling $33,000, and $38,808 for healthcare benefits.
All you have to do to save Virginia Park is to eliminate two of these categories or reduce all three. But we know that the same individuals that created this $2.5 million shortfall and put us on a path toward bankruptcy will not vote to punish themselves. Instead, they will ask you, the taxpayer, to do with less.
In a previous column, I addressed the car allowance issue. Council members would have to drive nearly 1,050 miles per month to justify this expense. Everyone knows that this is a sham used to pad their pocketbooks. These Council members claim that serving you is a privilege when they want your vote. If that is true, surely they can pick up the cost associated with driving to and from their house for Council meetings. Let’s get real.
We all know that these conferences are booze and schmooze fests. If you can eliminate funding to keep a park open you don’t need to go to these useless ego-stroking junkets. Oh … and those healthcare benefits. I don’t know any person in the private sector that works a part-time job and also gets a gold-plated health care plan. Neither should the Council.
You could eliminate all three of these items and save taxpayers more than $100,000 a year — more than enough to justify keeping Virginia Park open.
Council members and public sector executives are like department stores every time cost-cutting proposals come around. We all know that the “retail price” was jacked up just so they could try to convince us that 40 percent off was a fantastic sale. Spare us the histrionics about how you are cutting excessive and lavish benefits that should have never existed in the first place to make ends meet.
Starting cutting some real meat off the bone and then we can talk.
Resignations and retirements
The financial mismanagement of this town by this Council is a disgrace. It borders on criminal malfeasance that any elected body would entirely consume our emergency reserve fund during an economic boom. This is the Council that pays the town’s head dog catcher more than $250,000 a year. This is the Council that pays quarter-million-dollar or more compensation packages to three assistant town managers. This is the Council that spends $600,000 a year on a public relations and marketing team.
If Barb Stanton, Scott Nassif, and Curt Emick had any honor, they would not seek re-election. And Art Bishop and Larry Cusack would resign.
Council expenses need investigating
At a recent special meeting, Barb Stanton threw a tantrum and said she refused to cut her benefits and expenses. And I have highlighted how other Council members have used their government credit cards to purchase airline tickets for their partners.
Now that District Attorney Michael Ramos has been defeated, it is time to talk about investigating Council expenses and spending habits. If you don’t know, Ramos protected his political allies and my complaints have fallen on deaf ears. Next week we will talk more about these expenses and how I plan to approach DA-elect Jason Anderson and ask for an investigation.
Source: Angela Valles, Apple Valley Review