Local News

Monday, Jan 27 2014 05:48 PM

Windfall funds earmarked for city projects

BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

The city of Bakersfield is proposing to expand plans to build curbs, gutters and sidewalks in the east and southeast parts of town with expected winnings from a $4.2 million court decision last year.

At a meeting of the Bakersfield City Council's Budget and Finance Committee Monday, Community Development Director Doug McIsaac said the city's November victory means more than $2.7 million of that money should become available to improve city streets.

If approved by the full council, it would pay for curbs, gutters and sidewalks at five southeastern and eastern areas: northwest of Union Avenue and Brundage Lane, northeast of Planz Avenue and South H Street, southwest of California Avenue and South H Street, southeast of California and Union avenues, and southeast of Flower Street and Beale Avenue.

The city also has budgeted to spend nearly $1.7 million it expects to receive in federal Community Development Block Grant funds sometime after Oct. 1.

CDBG grants go to cities with populations of more than 50,000 and may be spent on projects in low- and moderate-income areas.

This CDBG money would pay for projects including new curbs and gutters on Lake Street between Union and Tulare avenues and on California Avenue in east Bakersfield; to remodel the gym at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in east Bakersfield and the restroom at Planz Park in the southeast; and to provide shade for picnickers at Jefferson Park in the northeast.

"This year we are anticipating a total allocation of a little over $4.2 million. That is what we anticipate a worse-case scenario," McIsaac said, explaining that because city officials don't know how much the federal government will pay them in CDBG funds, they used last year's estimate and reduced it by 5 percent.

The Bakersfield City Council is expected to approve final plans for the money realized by the legal victory in March, and plans for the CDBG funds in April.

The city's nearly $1.7 million in CDBG funds for projects may be augmented by $230,000 in CDBG money that has paid for two Bakersfield Police Department officers to patrol downtown since about 2008 -- a measure instituted during the recession so that police officers would not have to be terminated.

Committee Chairman Willie Rivera, who represents Ward 1 in southeast Bakersfield, directed staff to return that money to the CDBG budget and bring ideas back to the committee's next meeting on how to pay for the police.

"I wonder if we could transfer this back over to the police department, now that we're exiting the time when we were cutting positions," Rivera said.

Police Chief Greg Williamson said that if the positions are paid from police department funds instead of CDBG money, this could mean the 10 additional police officers approved by the Bakersfield City Council in June would effectively be reduced to eight.

"Our complement is 389 (sworn police) officers. This would put us at 387," Williamson said.

"Assuming we come back with an acceptable source to replace the $230,000, it does not," City Manager Alan Tandy said after the meeting. "That was not the committee's intent."

One option, Tandy said, could be to fund the police officers using most of the city council's $250,000 contingency budget, used to pay for unexpected or emergency expenses.

The city's lawsuit against the state Department of Finance and the county of Kern last February was over how much property tax money it should receive as the successor to the Bakersfield Redevelopment Agency. City officials expect a final resolution in their favor later this year.

In other business, the committee voted 3-0 to receive and file the results of the city's annual audit of its financial statements, for the period ending June 30, 2013.

The audit was done by Brown Armstrong Accountancy Corp. of Bakersfield.

"They gave us an unqualified opinion, which means they don't have any concerns," said Finance Director Nelson Smith.

Auditors did recommend the city verify its assets annually within various departments, and that it eliminate terminated employees' access to the city computer network more swiftly. Smith said both recommendations will be followed.

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