OPINION on Port Hueneme POA’s financial audit of the City

By Tom Figg, June 8, 2017

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On Tuesday May 23rd, the Port Hueneme Police Officers Association (“POA”) conducted a public meeting to inform residents and other city employees of Port Hueneme’s “true financial status.” I attended the event as an interested 40-year resident and long-time supporter of the Police Department. I’m also the Mayor of Port Hueneme, but I’m only one of five Council members who set policy. As such, my views are mine alone and those views may not necessarily align with those who serve with me on the Council. Those disparate opinions include the ongoing debate of retaining a home-town police force as opposed to outsourcing to other law enforcement agencies.

In my opinion, the May 23rd session fell far short of its advertised purpose and misrepresented the City’s  fiscal condition as well as the Council’s fiduciary obligations. I was particularly incensed by remarks of the forensic auditor that belittle Council actions to shore-up its structural budget deficit through a variety of cost saving measures, including the painful elimination of virtually all recreation programs. The POA’s forensic auditor implies that these expenditure reductions were unnecessary because reserve funds are readily available to backfill the associated costs. This incredibly simplistic view of municipal accounting and the use of reserves as a barometer of fiscal health wholly distorts the City’s “true financial status.”

The data and findings presented on May 23rd have not been scrutinized for their veracity, nor has either the City or public been given that opportunity. Instead, the analytical exercise was pitched directly to the community rather than engage the City in reconciling the disparate views of Port Hueneme’s “true financial status.” As the POA’s forensic auditor explained, such information and the timing for its release is tactically coupled with the labor negotiation process. Mind you, the May 23rd presentation was advertised as a public event, not a POA membership meeting or strategic planning session. Unlike the POA, the City’s financial books are open to everyone, all of the time and wholly without conditions.

Among other shortcomings, the POA’s forensic auditor fails to address the City’s recurring structural deficit. This is particularly significant insofar as public safety consumes 45% of general operating revenues. Without a combination of new funding sources and additional cost reductions, the City’s General Fund reserves will be fully depleted within a few short years. In contrast, the message delivered by the POA’s forensic auditor is to spend whatever reserve funds remain and in whatever earmarked accounts they reside. This incredibly short-sighted proposition is precisely what has brought the City to its financial knees today.

So where do we go from here? From the outset of my election in 2014, I’ve promoted retention of a home-town police force, proposed a Parcel Tax Measure dedicated to public safety, and have advocated for a conciliatory approach in labor negotiations which links employee compensation to the City’s financial performance. I still endorse those precepts despite the distorted claims that jeopardize a mutually acceptable outcome. The bottom-line is simple: we’re all in it together and our shared obligation is to best serve the interests of the community at large, not ourselves personally. If we don’t work together, we’ll all be disappointed in the outcome.

The City Council has been forced to make some very difficult and unpopular budgetary decisions. To their credit, the City’s various labor bargaining units have done their share of belt tightening through an assortment of salary and benefit concessions. These concessions (including those incurred by the POA) are painful, but no more or less significant than the elimination of popular recreation programs, the downsizing of department staff, the contraction of management functions and the deferral of capital improvements. Expending one-time reserves to backfill recurring costs simply postpones the inevitable day of reckoning. Now is the time to get it right.

As a reminder, this is my opinion and my opinion alone.

Tom Figg
Mayor, City of Port Hueneme
City of Port Hueneme
250 North Ventura Road
Port Hueneme, Ca 93041
(805) 377-9116

Tom Figg is Mayor of the City of Port Hueneme


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