Our Opinoin: Safety first

August 09, 2001

As the El Centro City Council struggles with a shortfall of money to make ends meet, one thing should probably be kept in mind: public safety is the government's most important role.

Public safety is but one of many community needs. The City Council has identified the need to hire more police officers, more firefighters, more City Hall staff to process the everyday work of a city, the need to buy new vehicles and the need to pay for capital improvements.

Other community needs include more parks and recreation, a skate park, a seniors center, and a new sign for McGee Park.

The city has been left with few alternatives in obtaining revenues. The majority of local property taxes were taken by the Legislature during lean times and given to education, an expenditure typically funded by the state. Though movement is afoot via Assembly Constitutional Amendment 10 that would, over a 10-year period, return much of what is being taken, the city needs money now and there is no guarantee ACA 10 will make it onto the ballot anytime soon.


So the city has to look at local solutions to local problems. Mayor Pro Tem Larry Grogan is making the rounds of the other local government bodies seeking to drum up support for a quarter-cent increase in the local sales tax.

By the time you read this Grogan will have gone before the county Board of Supervisors and the Calexico City Council to ask them to join El Centro's tax-increase efforts.

A countywide sales tax increase will require approval by the voters. If the money were slated for specific purposes the vote would have to be two-thirds in favor; for the money to be used for general purposes, only a simple majority is required.

There's no telling if county voters will buy into either.

The El Centro city manager has said the city general fund had a reserve of $3.4 million to begin fiscal 2001-02, with expected revenues of $13 million and $1.4 million in so-called transfer-in money, for a total of $17.8 million. Total expenditures are estimated at $15.3 million, leaving $2.5 million to start fiscal 2002-03.

Without the reserves, the city's general fund would have a $883,077 deficit in fiscal 2001-02 and a $1.15 million deficit in fiscal 2002-03.

To preclude such deficits, the City Council and city staff have discussed the potential for increasing revenues, other than by an increased sales tax. Two ideas that would result in higher sewer and water fees to users include charging for water and sewer right of way, which could add $350,000 to the city's budget and charging the water and sewer department for fire hydrant flushing, which could add $100,000.

One councilman has already said his budget priorities are fire, police and animal control. With the City Council set to hold further budget hearings next month, we urge the council to place police and fire at the top.

After all, what good is it to have a skate park, a seniors center or other forms of recreation outside the home if it's unsafe to journey out?

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