BY DAVID JAMES HEISS
As Banning’s Director of Administrative Services Jennifer Christensen pointed out during a June 9 budget workshop, “it has been a challenge for a number of jurisdictions” to tame a moving target that is the projected city’s budget over the next couple of (fiscal) years.
Overall fiscal year discretionary revenue estimates declined by 4.5 percent, which Christensen said is “not a huge number,” but indicates that the city will need to look to other areas for other revenue sources and pursue reductions in its expenditures.
Fortunately the city recently passed a medical pre-stabilization medical fee that is now billed to insurance companies for those who call for emergency medical responses in the city, which she advocated for, that could add $400,000 in revenues, and noted that the city could eventually enjoy cannabis tax revenue once retailers are up and running by next year.
Increased costs to pay the county to provide fire service and animal control are on the radar: the city seriously is considering options to once again run its own Fire Department and animal shelter again.
Christensen chided the county for giving the city a 30-day notice that it was doubling costs charged to Banning for animal services, despite the fact that the county is considering closing down a couple of shelters and eliminating an animal licensing program.
Christensen also mentioned that the city’s contract with Cal-Fire and the county’s associated administrative costs “merits further review” for consideration of alternatives.
There was discussion about the city sliding further behind in its maintenance of keeping up with replacing aging water pipes.
Councilman David Happe inquired about floating municipal bonds; Christensen said that bonds may be a possibility, but the city would need some kind of revenue stream to secure their repayments.
Public Works Director Art Vela assured the city council during the workshop that SB 1 funds (more commonly known as “the gas tax,” passed in 2017) and Measure A funds would be used to help pay for street maintenance operations, and that the department would pursue grant funding for water and wastewater projects.
Measure A, the half-cent sales tax for transportation passed countywide by voters in 1988 and renewed in 2009, ensures funds for roadways, commuter rail and public transit projects. The measure was extended for 30 years in 2002
City Treasurer John McQuown addressed the council, pointing out that previously 97.5 percent of the general fund’s budget had gone to paying for public safety. Out of that concern in June 2018, the city considered looking at budgeting its own Fire Department, and so far has budgeted $3.55 million through the lens of the Budget & Finance Committee.
“We can certainly help in getting our city moving in the right direction,” McQuown said.