YOLO SUN OPINION :
Woodland City Council is playing a dangerous political game with the City’s economic welfare and composure, during challenging times when thorough community understanding is essential for genuine civic cohesion.
Rather than striving for transparency and trust, our city council is choosing obfuscation and obstruction as its questionable style of public policymaking, gambling that city voters aren’t paying proper attention to its fiscal failures regarding (the half-cent) sales-tax Measure E of 2006.
City council members are avoiding an explanation to Woodland’s voters about the — monetary meltdown of Measure E — and the violation of its ballot advisory measures — prior to the June 8 Primary Election — where it has placed yet another sales-tax measure (Measure V).
Originally included on a city council agenda back in March, was an impending — fundamental reallocation of Measure E revenue — which is now being delayed until June.
Asked in March, why this item was removed from that prior agenda, Woodland City Manager Mark Deven responded that: Relevant staff weren’t yet able to complete this item.
However, it is plain from municipal information since then provided to Yolo Sun, as well as its further research, that sufficient material certainly existed in either March or April, to permit this important Measure E reallocation to timely appear on a city council agenda.
____ Council Mistrusts Public & Public Mistrusts Council ____
Woodland City Council has chosen to retard public awareness and voter understanding of the profound fiscal debacle of Measure E revenue, instead of engaging these affairs in a straightforward and trustworthy manner.
It has engaged in a pattern of publicly misrepresenting the basic nature of “ballot advisory” policy related to the legal status of Measure E (in reality, a general-fund measure) — and at the very same time — it is scrupulously busy abridging this identical “ballot advisory” policy — underneath the civic carpet.
Senior city financial staff exclaim that: They’ll “resign,” if again asked to build the sort of overly pooled and over-leveraged house-of-cards out of public sales tax, as has occurred with Measure E money and Deven adds that he would surely . . . “follow them right on out the door.”
Believably, however, Deven has clearly been under thrall of city council attitudes about carefully playing political house, impelling his impaired ability to simply spit-out the precise truth about this matter.
While somewhat convoluted, the plain bottom line about the condition of Measure E could easily be summarized within a few paragraphs. It’s what those paragraphs reveal — both an abrupt and continuing abridgement of Measure E’s ballot advisories — that is being kept within a closet of confined, official interpretation.
At the apex of the recent financial bubble-bursting, Deven indicates, there was no civic hindsight, only a buoyant municipal mood of escalating wealth — leading to overly risky judgments and chancy behavior about allocating fiscal resources.
Most of Measure E’s short-term (ballot-advisory) eggs and many long-term (ballot-advisory) eggs were — with that upbeat outlook — placed into one — pooled and leveraged pecuniary basket — which was duly crushed by the dead financial weight of the Great Recession of 2008 – 20??.
The city council tied an awesome anchor onto Measure E, and then sent it out into a perfect storm.
It is now time to predicate Measure E’s fundamental community reassessment and reallocation.
Worrisome council members, however, have elected to postpone this civic exercise, whilst they (somewhat timidly) request city voters to adopt the new (quarter-cent) Measure V.
Council members just don’t trust city voters enough to carefully inform them about the circumstances and consequences of playing politics with a house-of-cards.
So, instead of honestly leveling with voters, the city council intends to continue playing political house, thwarting transparency, increasing confusion and risking voters becoming distrustful of the council, misinformed and alienated from adopting Measure V.
Democratic institutions demand, not an uninformed, but an informed electorate, for successful function. This is a pivotal, unwavering civic principle.
Public comprehension of matters within the scope of civic interest must always be paramount, not conveniently timed and manipulated toward an abyss of political irrelevance.
City council members seem to believe that the public will better focus on these matters — after this election. Why distract city voters with pertinent information during an election campaign?
Delaying its political accountability for setting the siphon that sucked the soul from Measure E, the city council layers mistrust upon mistake.
Such a course is an awkward and perhaps consequential political misadventure.
____ Political Details & Priorities ____
Measure E was adopted on the heels of Measure H, which funded land-purchase and design elements of Woodland’s new Community and Senior Center. This project, including a huge new Sports Park, appeared to have popular inertia in 2007, as the foremost community priority — despite the glaring fact that the original renovation and expansion of the Woodland Public Library — twenty years ago — was never even completed, leaving vacant and unusable about 10% (2000 sq. ft.) of existing library space.
City council members attentive to the “common good and bottom line” (as goes their recent election campaign spin) might well have recognized some reasonable urgency about the community library’s very long-awaited completion.
After all — a large commemorative plaque at the library entrance declares the library renovation and expansion to be accomplished — when it is not.
Add to this the fact that Woodland’s General Plan includes library service standards which were obsolete long before adoption, leading to a hugely undersized library expansion program. Woodland Public Library must – triple in size – to meet well developed national guidelines, when only a fifty percent increase is currently planned through Measure E revenue.
Those problems are compounded by the fact that — unless the city council makes accessible by 4/5 vote Measure E’s hitherto out-of-reach road-component money ($25.5 million of eventual, unspent – general-fund – reserves), the $3.8 million planned to be included for an (vastly inadequate) 10,000 square foot library expansion within the new reallocation plan will be insufficient to construct it ($4.7 million was originally estimated and budgeted for this purpose).
Understandably, raw political influence and prowess, though occasionally wielded, is not a natural, library-like tendency and disposition.
While, the city’s parks & recreation department, with its flashy community complex, was quite strongly and very diligently advocated by its senior staff as politically robust and attractive.
Thus, the lavish and expensive (and largely un-operational) new community complex at the edge of town obtained the political gravity necessary — to have city council members abruptly abridge Measure E’s ballot advisories — by combining its revenue stream with that of development impact fees — and then bonding both fiscal resources together — for $10 million to construct this peripheral community complex.
____ Fiscal Details ____
Binding and bonding these two fiscal resources together, so that Measure E funds are fully on the pecuniary hook for whatever proportion of debt service is not accomplished by development impact fees — was the city council’s original game-plan of fiscal pooling and leveraging that — if repeated — would result in staff “resignations.”
Resulting from this city council policy decision — Measure E revenue is presently being used to pay-off an annual, $1.8 million of bonded debt on capital projects from — shortfalls — in collection of development impact fees, with several of these projects actually lying — outside the scope — of its ballot advisories.
Deven refers to this situation as — “temporary abridgement” — of these voter advisories, indicating an intention and hope to eventually reimburse Measure E.
Development impact fees are presently budgeted, overall, to meet $4.5 million of annual bond payments for various capital improvements and as noted, several items are not included in Measure E advisories. Deven has not yet been able to provide details about the identity and proportion of those projects lying outside the advisory scope of Measure E.
In the Great Recession, however, development impact fees have dried up, current projections indicating only $2.7 million being accessible for purposes of debt service on these various capital improvement projects.
That consequence suddenly leaves $1.8 million of debt burden falling directly against Measure E revenue, by its ballot advisory measures to be used only for capital improvements.
Also, Measure E is picking up at least the short-term monetary tab for other purposes — which are extraneous to voters’ ballot advisories.
$3.5 million is projected to be received in the next fiscal year from Measure E. It is due to be allocated in the following fashion: $1.8 million to cover development impact fees’ various debt service, $400,000 to pay its own share of the $10 million joint bond, $750,000 toward road rehabilitation and $550,000 for an account margin to cover regular fiscal fluctuations.
Since Measure E’s ballot advisories have already been — “abridged” — and its funds are actually being used to meet — extraneous debt obligations — why does the city council continue to pretend diligent observance and allegiance to its ballot advisories?
Why delay public inspection of Measure E’s fiscal landscape — until after our slender, bi-annual period of time for political accountability?
Apparently, this information and process isn’t politically convenient for city council members to explain to city voters, in the midst of proposing that they trust adoption of a successive sales-tax measure.
Although, it could well be the case that failing to trust the voters with immediate and genuine transparency is the true risk.
Already, residents understand that Measure E hit rough sledding in this time of economic distress, but playing political hot-house regarding all of the causes, consequences and interpretations — in order to hope to insulate the political status quo — during an election period — may produce adverse reactions in the minds of city voters when considering city council incumbents seeking re-installment, as well as Measure V.