The Tehachapi City Council on June 3 approved a balanced five-year budget for the City of Tehachapi. During my tenure as city manager, the budget has always been balanced. That is a theme that has been ingrained in my staff as they prepare their departmental budgets and set their goals each year.
The budget is a reflection of those goals, their accomplishments, projects and initiatives to better the city. It is the playbook by which we plan the coming fiscal year as well as the subsequent years. Our general fund is not only balanced, but our reserves our healthy. The adopted budget has $3.6 million in reserves, not counting an additional $1 million for unforeseen emergencies.
We are able to leverage additional revenues into public projects, road maintenance and staff to address our maturing city. This budget is allowing for the addition of a new police officer and the promotion of another part-time officer to a full-time position. Additionally, our community engagement specialist is becoming full-time as well with the growing need to keep the public informed about what is happening in the city. We’re creating new positions in our public works departments that are leveraging current employees into expanded roles.
The City of Tehachapi also operates enterprise funds — things like water, sewer, refuse, airport and landscape lighting districts. The good news is the two major funds — water and sewer — are both extremely healthy with very strong reserves. These accounts rely on the money coming in for the services they provide. With the reserves in water and sewer, we hope to completely pay for the recently announced Groundwater Sustainability Project without having to finance it. We have nearly paid off the debt from the last wastewater treatment plant update years ago; this means that fund will soon be debt-free.
We are working with the City Council on ways to address some deficits in enterprise funds. Tehachapi Municipal Airport, for example, continues to run in the negative and is being subsidized by the general fund. As Councilman Phil Smith recently pointed out, the more than $100,000 a year subsidizing the airport could be allocated to fixing potholes, but not until we find a solution to get the airport into the black. This is tricky with the limitations on usage, low ground lease rates and the investment required to develop on the airport, but we’ll get there.
The council also voted to move forward with a study that will address some landscape lighting district deficits as well. When homeowners purchase a home in certain neighborhoods, they agree to pay a fee in their property tax to keep public landscaping in their housing developments well-kept and the street lights on. We have three of these areas that are running a combined deficit of more than $120,000. We don’t feel the rest of the taxpayers should subsidize landscaping in a neighborhood they don’t live in. The study should come up with a palatable new rate and the council could decide to present the new appropriate structure to those residents for a vote to assist getting these funds self-sufficient and not reliant on the general fund.
In our personal lives, we know financial stability means peace of mind. The same is true with the City of Tehachapi. We want our residents to understand that our budget is healthy, our reserves are strong, and while we certainly have some improvements to make, we’re trending in the right direction.
Greg Garrett is Tehachapi's city manager.