|Ready for the Noah Green challenge?|
But now it is more than one year later, and identifying those cuts has apparently become the responsibility of residents just about as much as city officials. So we have some work to do.
Today we are going to take a second look at the Noah Green Challenge. I'd have thought that turning down a utility tax increase twice would be enough myself, and that local government might have heeded the will of the people and gotten this unpleasant yet necessary stuff done by now. But that is apparently not the case. And the question, "What would you cut?" is now being asked quite often at a lot of meetings all over town. It is a funny old world we live in.
It has come to that. So tell me partner, what exactly is it that you would want to cut?
As Sierra Madre's budget outreach (or is that input?) roadshow continues, it is now becoming obvious that sides are now being drawn and cherished constituencies fought for. And while people are not really telling anybody too much about what they would want to cut, they sure are happy to let anyone who will listen know what shouldn't be. Not a totally unexpected result if you think about it.
Pat Alcorn, who was unfortunate enough to have to run for City Council on the same ticket as me, has become an outspoken advocate for saving the things she believes in. As well she should. Here is what she had to say on Facebook yesterday:
At Tuesday's Council Meeting, the suggestion was proposed that in order to have a balanced budget, the Sierra Madre Library be cut to perhaps two part-time employees and vastly reduced hours. This would fulfill the State requirements of not closing the library completely. It was also proposed that the Community Services Department be closed.
These suggestions would mean losing a vastly talented Library Director and experienced staff, and a Community Service Manager and staff plus cutting out those vital services that make our town, OUR TOWN. -- MWTR, 4th of July Parade and celebrations, concerts in the park, Huck Finn Fishing Derby, Halloween Happenings, to name a few.
To tell you the truth, I don't necessarily disagree with Pat Alcorn. Especially on the Library question. It seems to me that those who support keeping the Library, and those who want to preserve Sierra Madre from the McMansion wrecking ball, are actually on two sides of the same coin. Both are preservationist at heart, and want to save the things that make Sierra Madre the quaint village they love.
One side wants to preserve their idea of a small town, which includes having a Library. Something the PUSD schools in town do not have, as many parents know. The other side of that coin also wants to preserve Sierra Madre, with their focus being to keep the town as it is. Quaint, idiosyncratic, and not filled with huge and ugly parvenu palaces like Arcadia.
In my opinion those who are politically pitting these two preservationist communities against each other are some of the most cynical individuals imaginable. And I am sure everyone knows who they are, and the dishonorable reasons behind why they are doing this. It is about as nasty a divide and conquer strategy as I have ever seen.
See how easy it is to say what you wish to keep, but not what you'd want to cut? The cutting thing is hard and unpleasant, and nobody wants to be the one to do that. It is much easier to be a savior, especially when it is mostly somebody else's money.
So that all said, I will now tell you what I think should be cut. And it would be that one big thing now receiving the lion's share of this City's tax money. By quite a considerable length. Doesn't that make sense? After all, that is where the real Lulu Belle is to be found.
Here is the General Fund pie chart from the Budget Community Input Meetings handout.
As you can easily see by this fine and colorful piece of graphic art, the vast majority of this city's tax money goes to pay for things like cops. Public Safety makes up 58% (or $5.7 million dollars) of the General Fund Budget. Nearly $4 million of that goes to the Sierra Madre Police Department. So doesn't it make sense to cut the most from the place where the largest chunk of the money is found?
Now before we get any farther, I need to say something else. There is a false dichotomy that has dominated the public safety debate here for quite some time here. That being in order to save a lot of money the city would need to get rid of the Sierra Madre Police Department and replace it with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. It comes up as often as the topic itself.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Not only would this be a very unpopular move here politically, it is also not likely save this city all that much money. The numbers just do not pan out. And once the SMPD is out and the Sheriff's Department in, I am sure the LASD would start nickel and diming this city to death. In the end any savings will likely be minimal.
Besides, when things get really bad doesn't the city just call in the Sheriffs anyway?
The real way to save money would be to both reduce the size of the Sierra Madre Police Department and cut back its overly generous benefits and retirement funding. In a low crime community such as this one, the almost $4 million dollars a year now being spent to police so small a town as Sierra Madre is an absurdly large amount of money.
We're talking about a town of less that 11,000 people. $1,500 a year for every family of 4 in Sierra Madre to pay cops for protection from trashcan invading bears and parking scofflaws is a bit much to ask. It just isn't necessary.
Sierra Madre has been a low crime community for about as long as anyone can remember. Year after year articles (link) are printed declaring our community to be one of the state's safest. Our fortuitous out of the way location makes this a place most criminals are quite leery about. There is no immediate access to the 210 freeway, something that makes absconding with the loot a risky proposition.
There are other reasons as well, mostly to do with income levels and other demographics. And while it is obvious why the SMPD's union would want to take all of the credit for Sierra Madre's decades old low crime figures, it just isn't very accurate or true. It has a lot more to do with the low density nature and defensible location of the community itself.
Also, haven't you grown sick and tired of reading stories about all of the stupid and petty lawsuits this city endures from the SMPD? They have been a very entitled group of litigious budget killers for years now, with only Michael Colantuono and his law partners profiting. To the tune of millions of dollars. Link here to see an example of what I'm talking about.
So this is what I would cut. Reduce the SMPD's expenditures by about a million or so dollars, or around 25% of its yearly budget. We would then be well on our way to achieving sustainable financial independence for Sierra Madre.
Nip and tuck a few other things (Paramedics, the so-called Planning Department, various defined benefit plans), and living within the constraints of a 6% UUT would be far more achievable than what certain disreputable individuals are running around and saying.
Keep the Library, keep the Fishing Derby, the 4th of July Parade and the SMPD. Can all of that nonsense about the Sheriffs and put the Sierra Madre Police Department on a badly needed cash diet. End the stupid "we're all gonna die" paranoia campaign the SMPD's lawsuit crazy union is running as well. It is dishonest and destructive. All they want is your money.
This has all largely been SMPD union employee salary and benefits driven mission creep anyway, steadily run over the course of far too many years. It has precious little to do with real public safety issues.
There you go, problem solved.
So that is what I would cut. How about you?