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By Greg Garrett
Tehachapi City Manager 

City faces new challenges

From the City Manager

 

February 19, 2022

Greg Garrett.

If you are a city resident, you have received some information via a resident newsletter explaining some challenges forthcoming in the City of Tehachapi. While our budget is currently balanced, our reserves and financial position strong, the nature of our municipal government is one that requires proper long-term planning.

As part of that process, we project our budget out five years each time it is adopted by the City Council. As you may be aware, we are facing some large increases for services in the coming years as the result of our contract with the Kern County Fire Department. Those costs include a 198% increase in general fund payments by the end of the term, which equates to an additional $1.2 million above our current rate. We continue to partner with the Kern County Fire Department and understand their need to increase revenues from contract cities like Tehachapi, however that comes at a cost to our general fund and could potentially lead to cuts in other services.

As a result, a budget consultant is working with the city to garner resident feedback on funding priorities. An initial phone and email survey was conducted last August with a variety of questions and funding scenarios proposed. From those resident responses, a funding priority list was gathered and is available for priority ranking on our website as are the results from the August phone and email survey.

In order to maintain the services we currently offer, we are looking to prioritize certain areas to help make decisions in the coming years. We do not have the luxury of the federal or state government to either just print money or create programs without a true funding mechanism behind them. In addition, our dealings with the State of California continue to be one-sided, as in they keep the majority of your money, and we receive some back through grants, special funds or other initiatives that require lots of work and lots of bureaucracy. Some of your SB 1 gas tax funds for example (which are now at $0.51 per gallon) are not eligible to come back to the City of Tehachapi for use on any road repairs as we were promised. Instead a portion of the money returns, but only for eligible high-traffic projects while the rest goes towards paperwork for a train that has yet to materialize. This is one of many examples of Sacramento money-grabs that have plagued us over the years, including the $6.5 million lost when the State of California dissolved redevelopment agencies (including the Tehachapi RDA) and kept your tax dollars for other programs.

Having a history of transparency, unlike our friends in Washington D.C. and the State of California, we are taking our situation public and talking about the realities of our fire service costs and our challenge to pay for them given the unfunded mandates and money grabs coming from the state capitol. As a full-service city, we offer things like a police department and the Tehachapi-area's only local 911 dispatch center, things that are not cheap, but offer a level of service that result in a low Part-I crime rate and emergency response times that save lives. We do not want to lose any of that moving forward.

I encourage you to head to http://www.LiveUpTehachapi.com/feedback to review some of the materials and join the conversation by submitting a budget priority survey. This will help in the decision-making process. In addition, our adopted five-year budget, financials and audits are available for review so you can make your own decision.

It might be difficult to understand all of this currently as our fiscal position is strong, but maintaining both our strong position and our level of service will be a challenge in the coming years and we must plan accordingly. Our ability to maintain local control gets more difficult as Sacramento politicians inch closer to imposing their will on our community. We are fighting that at all costs but being realistic in the financial ability to do so.

I look forward to your feedback and collaborating with you as we meet this challenge while remaining strong together in our desire to maintain local services with local control.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you via phone at (661) 822-2200 or email at ggarrett@tehachapicityhall.com.

 
 

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