Hemet city council struggles to balance budget

Measure U Oversight Committee challenges a grab for Measure U money

Chris Smith/The Valley Chronicle
A member of the public addresses the city council regarding the 2018-2019 operating budget.

■ By Chris Smith / Advisory Editor

Hemet City Council is struggling. It’s struggling over a $3 million shortfall in the 2018-19 budget.
It appears the idea of moving Measure U money into the general fund may be a political dead duck.
The irony is that the money raised by Measure U is beyond what was estimated. There seems to be some “extra money” that is about equal to the shortfall in next year’s general fund. Well, maybe a third of the shortfall.
But oh how tempting it was to just slide those extra dollars into the general fund instead of giving them to the police and fire departments to hire more officers and firefighters!
But once the public, and the Measure U Oversight Committee, got wind that this is what was about to happen, all hell broke loose. “Not on my watch,” said many of those on the Oversight Committee, who showed up in force last Thursday to voice their objections to the idea.

Raises unaffordable
The problem is really that in order for the police and fire departments to stay competitive they had to raise everybody’s pay. Or so the chiefs argued. It turns out most cities in Southern California are trying to hire police and firemen and the rule of supply and demand comes into play. The timing wasn’t good, and clearly the city could not afford the raises that it gave to these two departments last year.
The raises looked bad at the time and they were granted right on the heels of the passage of Measure U. But with a $10 million boost in city revenues from the tax, everyone assumed there was plenty of money to give the police the raises that the department felt was necessary to attract new officers.
Oops! Without adequate planning, the city decided to give in to the needs of the police – even though it didn’t have the money. The move, however, will have consequences because the raises will probably not be coming out of Measure U money after all. What’s more likely to happen is that every other department in the city of Hemet will have to operate at a reduced staffing level to pay for them. And the problem promises to get worse every year.

Parker wants hiring, spending freeze
City manager Allen Parker told the council Thursday evening in a special meeting to address the budget shortfall that he needs two things right away even to attempt to balance the budget. One of them is an immediate hiring freeze on all city departments – except police and fire, of course. The other is a freeze on spending by department heads without his express approval.
This declaration came after a bewildered city council realized it didn’t have a clue on how to balance the budget without Measure U money and needed Parker’s input on where to cut. Parker who has years of experience working for cities with financial troubles is about to come into his own in Hemet. It’s clear he knows how to balance the budget if given the authority. The problem is the cuts that he has to make are likely to create morale problems among the city employees who will be affected. He’s seen it happen before. Trying to balance the Hemet City budget is sort of like squeezing a balloon – there is just too much hot air in the balloon to shrink it down to a reasonable size.

How much does each arrest cost?
One wonders how much each arrest of Hemet’s lowlifes costs the taxpayers when you factor in the services that are required to keep them from taking over the city. When you see the broken store windows, the multiple car and home break-ins, and suspicious individuals lurking the streets, you realize that the problem is still not under control, despite some very good police work by Chief Rob Webb and his emboldened team of top-notch officers.

It might even be cheaper to start a public works program and employ these criminals than it is to hire police officers at $50,000-$80,000 a year in order to keep the drug addicted night -owls under control. Let’s face it: once someone has been convicted of a felony, it’s almost impossible to get a job, resulting in the need to support oneself either by selling drugs – or stealing. Of course if the city gave them all jobs, the unions would want to enroll them in CalPERS, and then the pension payments would really balloon.

Must be a better way
There simply has to be a better way. Giving low-lifes a bus ticket out of town might be a solution, but guess what? Hemet is not the only place where this societal disintegration is happening. It’s going on all over California, while the rich get richer and the poor go homeless.

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