Community Board: Giveaway reflects city’s recklessness

City Hall

Hollister City Council members defied logic by donating $92,050 to local nonprofit groups while the city is on the verge of campaigning for a sales-tax extension needed to stay afloat.
Council members, in the end, fell victim to pressure from local nonprofit organizations looking for an extra-special holiday gift from taxpayers. It was an extraordinarily irresponsible decision for a variety of reasons.
Most obviously, it’s not the job of elected council members to hand-pick nonprofit groups and give away the taxpayers’ money to them. Taxpayers, if they so choose, have every right to donate to any of the same or other nonprofit groups. Donating on behalf of taxpayers is essentially forcing local residents to financially support those same groups when there are dozens upon dozens of others up for consideration in this county.
Additionally, it’s not as if the city’s economy is booming or City Hall’s coffers are bursting at the seams like Scrooge McDuck’s vault. Council members and other officials conveniently ignore the fact that the City of Hollister runs a surplus only due to $4 million-plus in special revenue from the 1 percent sales tax OK’d by voters in 2008 and up for renewal at the polls next year. Without it, the city would face a massive deficit and imminent layoffs.
Beyond that, city officials in giving away taxpayers’ money are not duly preparing for the next recession. It’s easy to forget that the U.S. economy is eight years into a recovery from the last slump and could face another at any unpredictable turn. If that occurs, all bets are off the table, and this city has proven that it takes a particularly harsh financial beating in tough times. Hollister officials should budget as if they’re running an extremely tight ship, and the most responsible direction in general is to set aside whatever extra monies are available for a healthy reserve in the event the economy falters or taxpayers reject another sales tax.
This is assuming there aren’t millions of dollars in road repairs on streets throughout Hollister waiting in the wings, which there are, as city council members wash away any discretionary money they can get their hands on. Because city officials have failed to do any downward budgetary adjustments whatsoever as it pertains to employee compensation, which had been a stated priority of the mayor’s, sales-tax supporters will have no choice but to campaign for the funds with the message that the city needs the money to continue maintaining its current services. That will be a harder case to make now that city officials are tossing around money like drunken sailors.
Speaking of the service, Councilman Ray Friend sat on the two-person subcommittee whose job was to recommend the 12 nonprofit recipients. It so happens that the nonprofit organization in which Friend is most actively involved, the local American Legion chapter, received the second-most amount of money—$12,000—in the city’s giveaway. Perhaps it’s not a legal conflict of interest for Friend to sit on the committee recommending money to his own organization, but it certainly leaves open the door for criticism as it pertains to a purely political conflict.
The city’s hefty donations also won’t sit well with voters as they’re asked to give back more to the city for another five-plus years. Voters, like the nonprofits, realize such frivolous niceties not only cost taxpayers this year, but also set up precedent for future, similar donations in the event voters do approve a tax extension at the polls.
In the big picture, sure, $92,000 won’t make or break the city. But that’s not the point. This issue is symbolic of a larger problem—Hollister council members’ penchant to spend recklessly during perceived good times. It’s symbolic of history repeating itself instead of learning from past mistakes.

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