For the past 12 years, Redlands has operated with balanced budgets, always living within our means, using recurring revenues to meet recurring expenses. During that time, the city steadily reduced its debt and built reserves for a rainy day.
Now we all face an exceptionally challenging economic environment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the United States, financial market volatility, record-setting increases in unemployment and eroding consumer confidence from an unprecedented halt in consumer activity have led to deteriorating revenue streams for all forms of government.
For Redlands, sharp declines in sales tax, hotel taxes, user fees and business license revenues have forced steep reductions in the city’s ability to provide even basic services. Despite years of conservative budgeting, Redlands began this year’s budget with a projected $15.7 million deficit.
To close that deficit, Redlands has significantly trimmed nonessential services and made significant budget cuts, eliminating 80 positions across city departments, including police, animal shelter and the A.K. Smiley Library. We have also exhausted a significant portion of our reserves in making every effort to mitigate impacts on residents. But, even after these reductions, Redlands faces a $5.6 million budget shortfall that is expected to widen in the future.
Because of the high percentage of false alarms and the need to dedicate police resources to higher priority calls, Redlands Police officers no longer respond to burglar alarms without verification of a break-in. And, officers no longer routinely respond to non-injury traffic collisions.
Kennel attendant positions at the animal shelter were eliminated, leaving the care, feeding and cleaning of animals to animal control officers, resulting in reduced shelter hours and reduced availability of field officers.
At the A.K. Smiley Public Library, staff reductions resulted in cutbacks in library hours, eliminating Sunday hours completely. Were it not for extraordinary one-time private donations this year, library hours would have been reduced even further, leaving the library open only five days a week.
And the impact of the current reductions will certainly be felt further once COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are eased and activity begins to resume.
Without a new revenue stream, more severe cuts will be inevitable in the years ahead. Further reductions in personnel will require elimination of services Redlands residents have long enjoyed.
To preserve public safety, city services, local infrastructure, such as the A.K. Smiley Public Library, and our parks, streets and sidewalks, the Redlands City Council unanimously voted to place Measure T, a 1-cent local sales tax measure, on the November 2020 ballot.
If approved by a majority of Redlands voters, Measure T will provide locally controlled funding for general services, such as providing fire protection and paramedic services, 911 emergency response, maintaining neighborhood police patrols, addressing homelessness issues and keeping public areas, parks and facilities clean, safe and well-maintained.
According to conservative estimates, by adding 1 cent to each dollar spent by the public in Redlands, Measure T will generate approximately $10.7 million in local funding for public safety and other city services. As a voter-approved measure, Redlands voters could repeal the measure whenever they choose. Measure T also ensures out-of-town visitors pay their fair share for city services they use when they shop in our community.
Measure T requires fiscal accountability protections, including both independent citizens’ oversight and independent audits. All revenues raised by the one-cent tax would remain in Redlands to address local needs. By law, none of those funds may be taken away by the state. And expenses such as groceries, prescription medications and other essential items are exempt from the tax.
I invite you to learn more about Measure T. More information is available at www.CityofRedlands.org/MeasureT.
Charles M. Duggan Jr. is Redlands’ city manager.