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By Casey Christie / The Californian
BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Bakersfield's fiscal conservatism was displayed at a city council committee meeting Wednesday when members voted unanimously to delay a discussion about police funding to spring budget talks, and not participate in a residential solar panel financing program.
The Bakersfield City Council's Budget and Finance Committee had asked city staffers in January to stop using $230,000 in federal grant money to pay two police officers who patrol downtown and find other funding sources.
City Manager Alan Tandy pointed out Wednesday sales tax revenue was down for the second and third quarters of 2013 and suggested using the city council's $250,000 contingency fund.
During last year's budget cycle, the city proposed and the council approved increasing its contingency fund -- used for special items and one-time expenses -- from $50,000 during the 2012-2013 fiscal year to $250,000 for the current year.
Two of three committee members said Wednesday they had expected to hear more options, and questioned whether such a large contingency budget was wise given sales tax revenue's disappointing performance.
"So this is Plan A. There's no Plan B? There's no other place we can pull this money from?" asked member Terry Maxwell, who is Ward 1 councilman.
"We're looking at a $200,000 increase, but I'm told we're tightening our belts," said Chairman Willie Rivera, Ward 1 councilman, and suggested the $230,000 be used for infrastructure improvements at last month's meeting.
Committee member Ken Weir, who is vice mayor, asked what would happen to the officers if the committee didn't decide.
"So where are those two officers going? Are they just out in limbo?" Weir asked.
Tandy said Bakersfield Police Department's 389 sworn officers will remain, and that despite recent economic indicators, the city's financial condition is good.
"We aren't in bankruptcy or threatening bankruptcy or financial duress," Tandy said, citing cities like Stockton that are or have been in financial straits. "We use extremely conservative budget practices."
The committee voted 3-0 to revisit the topic when the full council considers the proposed 2014-2015 fiscal year budget.
In other business, the committee postponed joining a new Property Assessed Clean Energy program that would allow homeowners to finance energy-efficient devices such as solar panels by adding liens to property tax bills.
The Federal Housing Finance Administration issued a statement raising concerns about PACE programs in 2010 because in most cases these liens would be ranked ahead over mortgage payments -- meaning that in default or refinancing, they could be paid off before the home loan.
Kern County and the cities of Taft and Ridgecrest have voted to join the new program, known as Home Energy Renovation Opportunity, but Assistant to the City Manager Steve Teglia said the FHFA's statement concerned Bakersfield.