Thursday, July 5, 2012

(Tulare Co) Grand jury raises questions about Measure H

by Rick Elkins -

Porterville City Manager John Lollis said most, if not all, the recommendations made by the 2012 Tulare County grand jury in its investigation of the city’s Measure H have already been or are being addressed.

The grand jury released its annual report on Saturday and one of the two investigations covered in the report was over the city’s one-half cent sales tax measure to fund public safety and literacy programs in the city. The measure was passed in 2005 with 70% voter approval.

In its findings, the grand jury, made up of 18 county residents, concluded that the “ballot measure did not provide the public with an accurate description of the provision in Measure H.”

The jury recommended:

1. “Literacy Programs” needs a more specific definition.

2. The “Public Safety Expenditure Plan” should be approved by the Oversight Committee.

3. Large expenditures should have prior review by the Oversight Committee.

4. The City Council justify the funding of a “Public Safety Station” instead of the Fire Station authorized by Measure H.

5. The City Council should provide a ballot measure description for future measures that accurately describes the intent, especially regarding capital expense.

The grand jury report indicated the investigation was prompted by a citizen’s complaint alleging that the city spent Measure H funds on items not authorized in the ballot measure.

“When I looked at the recommendations, they are things the council has already addressed,” said Lollis who has 60 days in which to respond to the grand jury. The City Council has also been asked to respond, but Lollis said the response will be from both.

Lollis said the word limit on the ballot measure would not allow the city to be more specific on how Measure H revenues would be spent.

Monte Reyes, who served on and once served as chairman of the Measure H Bond Oversight Committee, said he was somewhat surprised by the grand jury investigation, although he had heard some people had issues with the measure.

“I got the feeling it was run properly,” Reyes said of the measure. He left the committee in May of this year. He said that while he was on the committee, no one came forward to criticize it, although there were some individuals who raised issues with some parts of the measure.

“We do [look at the spending plan] and although we can’t change it, we can make recommendations,” he said.

Reyes did agree that the city should have placed a sunset clause in the measure, a point taken by the grand jury.

As to defining literacy programs, Reyes said that was accomplished last year. “That was put to bed,” he said.

Lollis did take exception with the jury’s recommendation that the council needs to justify the funding of a public safety facility.

That facility, planned for South Jaye Street and already in design, would combine a police and fire facility, although the jury pointed out the measure only called for a new fire station to be funded by Measure H. The city has set aside $3 million for that project.

Lollis said it makes financial sense to combine the two in one program.

“Should efficiencies be damned,” asked Lollis, explaining that if the facility cost $4 million and $3 million is for a fire station, isn’t that prudent use of taxpayer money.

However, the final decision on the public safety facility will be made by the council, he said.

Lollis did say the city has repaid Measure H about $60,000 for money spent on a consultant who looked at the feasibility of building a new library.

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