Where, oh where can the city find an extra $578,000 to replace the funds cut by the state?
In the road, that’s where! The city manager just found it there, gushing out of the speed cameras! She found almost enough to keep the city humming along through the fiscal year. She’s short $135,705, but that may be partly “offset” by vacant staff positions.
There IS a catch to this revenue source, however! The speed camera funds can ONLY be spent on projects that “improve public safety.”
So, some adjustments to job descriptions have been made. One police officer has found himself transferred to a “traffic-safety position,” though his duties remain largely the same. Through a clever combination of such re-purposings and no-brainers (yes, new speed bumps, traffic circles, and sidewalks come under public safety), city manager Barbara Matthews says she can fill most of the gaps in the budget.
The council, overwhelmed by the volume of information in Matthew’s proposed budget amendment, and wanting to allow time for citizens to ponder and comment on it, postponed voting on it at the Oct. 5 meeting. Your Gilbert hopes you Dear Readers, especially those who bellyache about about the council’s allegedly profligate spending and oligarchic treatment of residents, will take the opportunity to study the amendment and give the council feedback before the vote.
Your Gilbert imagines the gyrations staff will have to to through to “find” further traffic safety aspects of other expenses. The purchase of paper clips, for instance, would keep them off the road where they could cause tire punctures. Some job titles may change. “Traffic Safety Mayor Williams?” “The “Traffic Safety Community Center and Sam Abbott Pedestrian Center?” Oh, wait! We forgot to stick “sustainability” in there!
As much as city staff and politicians have insisted that the speed cameras are for safety, NOT revenue production, this looks to Your Gilbert like another step down the slippery slope. There was no mention of safety when the city manager mournfully announced that speed camera revenues are declining due to a new state law raising the MPH above the speed limit cameras are allowed to issue tickets.
Ironically, at the previous week’s meeting Councilmember Clay scoffed at the idea of speed traps, saying only speeders call them that. She was ruing the fact that fines from traffic violations go to the state, not the localities where the violations occurred. Mayor Bruce Williams told her it was set up that way to prevent localities from creating speed traps – at which point Clay’s scoffing began. Apparently, she’s never heard of (or believed in) cash-hungry towns setting real traps with a tempting section of open highway, an obscure or nonexistent sign marking a speed limit reduction, and an ever-present police officer in hiding, ready with speeding tickets, handcuffs, and the authority to impound vehicles.
Er, so now our cash-hungry city is using a tempting section of open highway, obscure or nonexistent warning signs, and an ever-present camera to keep the city coffers full. No, that’s not QUITE a speed trap, but it has the faint odor of one.
Or maybe that’s the sulfurous fume of sin taxes – like those slapped on tobacco and liquor. Or like the state’s cut from legalized slot machines (which the council passed a resolution AGAINST). Speeding fines are not a tax, but like all those other schemes the revenues are being used to fund government programs using citizen’s money taken by non-progressive means.
The city council seems to be like the dinosaur in the old gag – the one who is so big it takes a few days to feel a bump to his tail because it takes that long for the message to reach the brain.
Four weeks after the aforementioned state-cutbacks yanked over half a million dollars from the city budget, worry furrowed councilmember Josh Wright’s brow as he questioned whether, given the budget slash, the city should be making renovations to the Public Works Department this year. That money, he said, might be needed for more basic necessities. Furthermore, he said, the city should take a serious look at an idea raised earlier – giving the city streets back to the county so they have to maintain them. Not only would this save the city the expense, it would remove the need for part of the Public Works renovation.
Wright was on fire*, he went on to propose that the city ban the use of styrofoam containers in city restaurants and vendor stands. The mass of plastic debris left after the recent Old Town Street Festival was an inspiration, apparently.
He brought up a few other environmental issues. He spoke in favor of the city exercising the option buy its light poles so it could control maintenance and what kind of bulbs to install. He also advocated changing the parking permit law to give a discount to any vehicle that gets 40 MPH or better. Currently it gives a discount only to hybrids. When the city manager began objecting to that change due to the additional staff time it would take to look up any given vehicle’s MPG, Wright jumped in saying “I thought of that” and said that the figures are readily available on an EPA website and would take “less than a minute” to look up.
Councilmember Dan Robinson, saying that Wright’s mention of a Styrofoam ban “got me going,” jumped in to support that and a plastic bag ban as well. He also spun a loose set of ideas about the city supporting a biodiesel cooperative, the Green Guild.
Perhaps Wright and Robinson were energized by the election, though neither has a challenger this fall. Mayor Bruce Williams, who does have a challenger, piped up with his own environmental initiative. Williams, looking unusually formal in a suit and tie, said details would be available after a meeting on Wednesday, but it had to do with converting garbage into diesel and electricity.
Councilmember Terry Seamens, who also has a challenger this election, said that perhaps the council was getting the cart before the horse. He suggested submitting the ideas to the newly formed Task Force on Environmental Action, whose mission it is to recommend an overall city environmental policy.
The Task Force appointees were officially voted in along with new members of various other city committees – all in a consent agenda passed at this meeting, btw.
The standoff with the group currently occupying the city council chambers continues. Officials still don’t expect a resolution to the situation for months. In fact, that resolution may now be prolonged due to the council’s rejection of terms offered by an architect firm to redesign the lobby just off the chambers. The architects vowed to return with new, more acceptable designs.
* “On fire” is a relative term. A normal person “on fire” would exhibit a lot of passionate, dramatic speaking and gesturing. A councilmember “on fire” means he or she speaks at length without using the word “whereas.” Or “sustainability”..