OPINION | Oversight committee weighs in on city spending

By: Toni Momberger, chairwoman, Measure T Oversight Committee

OPINION | Oversight committee weighs in on city spending

As the Measure T Oversight Committee, our duties are to monitor how the city is spending Measure T sales tax revenue, to present our conclusions to as many taxpayers as we can reach, and to be as advisory as we are evaluative.

In order to keep in mind at all times the incredible trust the voters showed when they backed this tax, we assess all proposed and actual Measure T revenue spending by checking it against the language used in the Measure T Campaign.

The campaign promised voters the money would do the following:

  • Restore city personnel to pre-pandemic and then pre-recession levels
  • Address homelessness
  • Maintain library services
  • Improve our parks
  • Fund public safety facilities and equipment
  • Support animal services.

The committee has four new members this fiscal year, and has amended the evaluation criteria into a hybrid of the campaign promises and the ballot language.

This expands the assessment to include funding for sidewalks, roads and general public areas, but the committee feels that only maintenance and repair would be in the spirit of the Measure T campaign, and we would condemn any spending from this tax on new road, sidewalk or public area construction, especially if its purpose was to facilitate new commercial or residential development.

We believe if the ballot language had said the tax was ‘to subsidize new growth in Redlands,’ it would not have passed.

During the campaign, the voters were told the money would not go toward the pension obligation, debts or raises.

The review process

On March 20 city staff gave us a report of actual spending for the 2022-23 fiscal year. This is the second full year Measure T funds have been in the budget.

We had reviewed the proposed two-year budget in May 2021 and recommended its adoption, finding the projected $18,258,026 in expenditures for the fiscal year in question aligned with the tax’s intended use.

Actual Measure T revenue was adjusted up by $2,208,886. Total spent was $20,416,233.

Among the expenditures added after the committee recommended the council adopt the budget was an item listed as “street construction” for $1,429,581. This came in as the fourth highest Measure T expenditure (out of 33), behind restoring police staffing ($3.4 million, rounded up), police station reserves ($2.7 million) and restoring fire staffing ($1.6 million, rounded up). 

In this particular budget, the “street construction” money went to resurfacing alleys, and replacing sidewalks and ADA street ramps.

The committee requests a change in practice so the oversight committee is able to act in an advisory capacity for significant expenditures added after the budget is adopted.

This is what we propose: If spending that we recommended does not occur, or if more will be spent than we approved on a specific expenditure (within a reasonable percentage), there is no need to bring amendments before us, but if a new expenditure is added, we should have the opportunity to add our voice to the council’s consideration.

We also feel the language we’re using for oversight should be included in the budget plan.

The spending report

The money was spent on the following:

  • Ongoing cost of 39 Measure T-funded positions in the Redlands Police and Fire Departments
  • Ongoing cost of equipment and technology infrastructure and services for the Police Department
  • Upgrading park facilities
  • Upgrading Community Center and Senior Center facilities and programs
  • Replacing a Fire Department vehicle
  • Remodeling a fire station
  • Remodeling the Emergency Operations Center
  • Improving downtown and gateways
  • Improving traffic and parking
  • Trimming 7,100 city trees and removal of 330 dead city trees
  • Repairing 9,400 (rounded up) square feet of sidewalk and 200 linear feet of curb
  • Resurfacing alleys
  • Technology for the Police Department
  • A truck for streets and inspections
  • Traffic signal parts
  • ADA street ramps
  • $510,000 homeless facility grant contribution
  • $2,700,000 was placed in a homelessness and police reserve
  • Improvements to the animal shelter, including a cattery remodel, shade sails, a misting system and HVAC repairs

Restoring positions

In total, Measure T has funded 58 full- and part-time positions: 30 in the Police Department, nine in the Fire Department, eight in the A.K. Smiley Public Library and 11 in the Facilities and Community Services Department.

At the beginning of the pandemic, 30 positions were cut or defunded from the Police Department, eight were cut or defunded from the Fire Department, three unfilled positions at the library were defunded and several other positions were eliminated in other city areas.

Restoring personnel was presented to voters as the primary and most urgent reason for passing Measure T.

We understand that a duplication of the positions the city had as 2020 began may not be the best goal, as technology and community needs evolve. We also feel that the target should be adjusted for population growth.

The Measure T Oversight Committee is working with staff to determine some metric to evaluate whether and when city staff positions have been “restored to pre-pandemic levels” and also for the subsequent target, pre-recession levels.

The current budget 

We are more than halfway through the 2023-24 fiscal year, which is the first year of the city’s second two-year budget.

The Measure T Oversight Committee did not recommend adoption or rejection of this budget to the City Council because their vote was not on schedule.

Typically the City Council votes on the budget in June for the fiscal year beginning July 1, but the memoranda of understanding (the labor agreements) were still in negotiation well past the beginning of the fiscal year.

Our meeting to review the proposed budget was in October, when I was absent (severely ill with COVID-19), and the council adopted the budget in November.

Our findings

Before Measure T went into effect, projected revenue was $10 million a year. Though it brought in less this year than last, the tax has brought in more than $20 million a year so far.

This is making Redlands a better place in many ways. A few short years ago we were excited to have gone from a 20-year backlog in street-tree trimming to a 7-year backlog. Today, depending on species, a tree trimming request may be met in 3 years.

The city has been able to upgrade the Bowl facility, invest in public safety departments, build a playground, replace curbing and make the Animal Shelter more comfortable for the stressed and scared dogs and cats in our city without families.

Managing Services Director Danielle Garcia said during a committee meeting this month that without Measure T Redlands would not have been able to afford these expenses or many others.

On behalf of the Measure T oversight committee, composed of Scott Welsh as vice chair, Ruth Cook as secretary and Deputy Chief Reggie Brown, Brooke Doolittle, Eddie Ico and Ed Millican, I submit an endorsement of the 2022-23 fiscal year report as spending in good faith with the promises made.

We will meet again in advance of council action on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and will report to council and the public whether we urge its adoption or rejection.

Editor's note: The follow remarks were made by Toni Momberger, chairwoman, Measure T Oversight Committee before the Redlands City Council on April 16, 2024.

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