THE CITY OF ATWATER’S HIDDEN BUDGET CRISIS ABOUT TO GET VERY REAL

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ATWATER, CA -Most citizens in Atwater really have no idea how poorly their city has been and is being run by its elected and salaried leadership. And with the current city council, nothing is going to change anytime soon, but it is about to get a whole lot worse.

The Measure H fund is paid for by you and anyone else who buys goods and services in the City of Atwater. Passed in 2013 by over 67% of the voters, the measure imposes a 0.5 percent transactions and use tax to fund police, fire and 911 emergency response services for 10 years. But the fund and how it was spent came under scrutiny as a brand new $890,048, 100-foot ladder fire truck was ordered. It is important to note that Atwater’s tallest buildings are not over 35 feet.

The City of Atwater Citizens Oversight Committee for Public Safety Transactions and Use Tax, which reviews the expenditure of revenue (Atwater taxpayer money) collected pursuant to Atwater Municipal Code Chapter 3.45, Sections 160C (Atwater Public Safety Transactions and Use Tax) and determines whether such funds are expended (used) for the purposes specified in the ­current public safety measure police and fire expenditure (purchase) plan, and issue reports on their findings to the City Council and public at least annually. They met on April 19th and found that Atwater’s City Council met in private and is again, after being promised by new leadership to never do, playing a “shell game” with tax payer’s dollars.

As April 25th meeting began, Atwater resident Gary B., who attended the April 19th meeting regarding Measure H funds, took to the podium and began with his concerns regarding law enforcement layoffs and how the public was not informed.

“I understand we had a problem in a fund and we had to transfer over six police officers over to the Measure H fund,” Gary began. “We went from a $495,000 dollar surplus to $25,980 dollars. I really don’t understand this. I think we are playing a “shell game” again (a shell game is term used to describe deceitful actions or trying to hide something) and we got caught. I understand this was discussed in closed session (when the city council meets in private without the public knowing their discussions and or actions). I Don’t understand why stuff like this is in closed session, it should be out in the public. If I’m wrong the city attorney can advise me of that.”

Then Gary really made the point of his address to the city council when he stated, “If we wouldn’t have moved these six police officers over to Measure H funds to cover their salaries we would have had lay offs. We would be right back in the situation we were in before.”

Atwater PD has made a few new hires since 2014 with at least 7 new officers added to the city payroll and at least one Atwater detective named Lisa Howard, who is married to Merced County Sheriff’s deputy Howard, was paid over $200,000 per year while she fought and lost a DUI where she slammed her car into one of her neighbors home. She was seen by the neighbor whose home she hit stumbling away from the scene and running away. The City Manager who is also the Police Chief, Frank Pietro led the city and its people in support of the detective continuing to pay her salary while she enjoyed the two years off.

In normal situations the Police Chief is accountable to the City Manager and the Mayor as well as the people of the city. But unfortunately, Atwater politicians have ensured they keep Pietro in place to play the “shell game” which he is quite the master of.

The council continued to work through their affairs last night as they proposed refinancing the cities financial liabilities of over $9 million dollars. A new bank would pay the liability and the City of Atwater will them make payments to the bank at about half the current interest rate. But an interesting point was made by Councilman Bryan Raymond when he noted that the city will be offering up buildings owned by the city as collateral in order to get the banks money and then has to lease the buildings at a monthly payment as well. If the city defaults on their payment the bank can start taking Atwater’s buildings from the city which could lead to a very serious situation.

Already the City of Atwater is so far in the red that there really is not light at the end of the tunnel and the Mayor is now in support of taxing Atwater residents in order to kick the can down the road leaving the next council to deal with the mess. By that time Atwater may have much more to have to deal with as they are continuing to pay more for services then what they receive in return.

Another alarming agenda item that had Atwater’s City Mayor and a couple of council members trying to play the “shell game” with the people and tax payer dollars. On a 3 to 2 vote the city approved adding the 1/2 cent sales tax measure being proposed by MCAG which seems to be a “shell game” of its own. Instead of allowing local city governments to work together directly with the county, the MCAG seems to be setup as another bureaucracy that just does not need to be. Those salaries from this liaison entity could possibly go to help local city coffers instead of a new 1/2 cent sales tax on taxpayers.

What would the 1/2 cent sales tax be for? Well…. it’s supposed to go for sidewalks and road work, but some questioned just what good $615,000, which is the amount of the 5 million collected annually that will go to Atwater’s sidewalks and road repairs. The mayor even tried to state that the tax could repair 400 locations that are not ADA compliant until councilmember Raymond about how much that would actually cost to fix those ADA non compliant locations.

Mayor Jim Price quickly realized he got caught again playing the “shell game”, then began warning Atwater residents stating that he does not want you to call him, send him any emails or letters and to not writer letters to the editors if they don’t vote for the 1/2 cent sales tax. Then Mr Rivero made a very good point.

“We are we asking the citizens to pay for this over thirty years? Why when we only included 10 years in Measure H.”

And with their vote the Mayor supported raising more taxes while hailing his Ferrari Ranch project. MCNTV News has attempted to reach the mayor to ask him about how much Ferrari Ranch has contributed in building fees for the project, but the questions seem to be too difficult for this mayor to answer.

The days of Atwater’s “shell games” are coming quickly to a point of no return and soon, very soon the city will have no other choice, due to very poor and some say illegal management of Atwater’s financial affairs, but to fade into a distant memory as it becomes just another small unincorporated town in Merced County.

 

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