The City of Corcoran is facing a budget crisis. A recent fiscal report notes that within another year, the city’s general fund will flat line. Gone will be the $5.6 million reserve that was in place in 2008; that figure is already reduced to about $1.5 million in reserve this year (the fiscal year ends June 30). By the end of the 2016-17 budget year, the reserve is projected at about $850,000.
At that point, spending at current levels takes the budget into deficit. Within 10 years from now, the city is looking at a general fund loss of about $11 million.
Confronting this crisis is overdue. The city has been watching the downward spiral of the general fund reserve for the past eight years.
It is time someone acknowledges the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Public safety, a community’s savior, is unfortunately also the culprit. Public safety costs devour approximately 77 percent of the general fund budget. Averaging about 69 percent of the general fund budget over the last eight years, public safety gobbled up 79 percent of that budget in 2014-15 and dropped just a couple of percent this current year.
Fire service costs have increased from about $168,000 to $425,000 a year. Police services have increased from $2.6 million to $3.5 million over the same period.
On top of that, public pension costs increased 19 percent during the current year, despite the city reducing staff and attempting to keep benefits under control. Pension costs are expected to continue to increase due to state demands on those funds.
Cuts proposed by city staff thus far fall short of reaching any positive goal. Cutting funding to the chamber of commerce and the RAC, while increasing some fees and recovering costs elsewhere provides a big drop in the bucket, but does not solve the problem.
Corcoran is not the only small town facing these issues. It has been tackled more directly, most recently in the City of Parlier, where the city manager said cuts will start at the top. He has volunteered a 15 percent salary cut, taken from the general fund; he will also pay 100 percent of his retirement. The city manager, who makes $150,000 a year, is also paying his own medical benefits and does not have a car allowance.
Parlier is also proposing cutting two police officer positions.
Our city now faces tough choices. It certainly won’t be fun for anyone. Do services get cut that impact quality of life issues? Do city staffers need to acknowledge that continued costs of current salaries and benefits, especially in upper management, can no longer be sustained? Do employees have to take on a greater share of cost for benefits, or, in some cases, do without them?
Do we need a real sales tax initiative—a local one—that will help us pay for public safety? We are among the lowest paying communities for levying sales tax than most of those around us, who addressed this issue before they went broke. A half-cent sales tax to support public safety would spread the cost to each citizen—and each citizen is the recipient of solid public safety services.
Something’s got to give. The time for talking is past and the time for action is now. Local residents need to be prepared to pay the price or do without services.