Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sacramento Bee: Tiny City of Isleton's Huge Problems

Isleton council's deadlock will be broken with special election

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 20, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B 
 
As if the cash-strapped city of Isleton doesn't already have plenty to worry about.
It's fielding subpoenas from Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully over its licensing of a medical marijuana farm. It's bracing for a loss of state funds to keep its one-man Police Department intact.

Add one more distraction that is elevating Isleton's reputation as a little city with a big dysfunction:
Isleton's City Council, unable to break a 2-2 gridlock to fill a council vacancy, agreed to spend $5,000 for a special, vote-by-mail election to decide who should fill the post. That election, already approved by city resolution, will occur this summer.

Council members say they didn't set out to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars instead of making their own decision.

"Personally, I don't want to spend the money," City Councilman Robert Jankovitz said Tuesday.

"We need five council members and we can't reach a decision," he said. "There is no other alternative that I see, unless somebody is willing to change their vote. And apparently nobody is."

The impasse occurred when Jankovitz and Councilwoman Elizabeth Samano joined forces in support of former Councilman Jim Corsaut to fill the post.

Mayor Mark Bettencourt and Councilwoman Rebecca Villones refused to go along.

Corsaut had served on the City Council through last year and had hoped to run for re-election in the fall. But he waited until the last minute to file signatures with the county – and then not all of them were valid, said Sacramento County elections spokesman Brad Buyse.

Michael Gomez, another would-be candidate and the city's 2010 vice mayor, also failed to win a place on the ballot because he was not registered at the address that he put on his application for candidacy, Buyse said.

The vacancy brouhaha erupted when incumbent Councilman Christopher Stokes resigned in January.
Last week, with still no agreement to replace Stokes in sight, Gomez put in his bid to win the appointment – to no avail.

Samano said Tuesday she believes there is sufficient money in the budget for the upcoming special election. It's just a question of budget priorities, she said.

"We supposedly have all this money coming in from the marijuana growing," she said.

The city has a deal with nonprofit Delta Allied Growers, which plans a 4,000-square-foot cannabis growing operation and has agreed to pay 3 percent of its proceeds – or at least $25,000 a month – to the city for police and other activities.

Five thousand dollars for a special election, of course, would cause barely a ripple in the budgets of most cities in the region. But in Isleton, where the city of 800 residents already relies on an all-volunteer Fire Department and has no sworn officers to help the police chief, even that amount is an issue.

"Five thousand dollars is a big number," City Manager Bruce Pope said. "It could be $8,000 when the bill finally comes."

The general fund budget is $1.2 million. But the city also has large debt. It must use general operating funds to finance sewer system repairs required by the state.

It pays $147,000 a year on a bond issued to pay off huge debts from its prior years of fiscal tumult.

Its property tax proceeds fell 20 percent within the last year. Sales tax revenue is down, too. And it won't climb again anytime soon.

"In one month, we had five businesses close on Main Street," lamented Pope.

Funding for a prime source of law enforcement proceeds – Community Oriented Policing Services – is in jeopardy because of state budget problems.

"That's going to have a severe impact on our ability to provide police protection," Pope said.

And now Scully has launched a probe of the legality of the city's agreements with the pot-growing operation.
Regardless, there still will be plenty to worry about for whoever is elected to the fifth council seat.

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