Over 30 Million Dollars up in smoke !
Where Did All the Money Go, or How to Waste Tax Money Without Really Trying!
by Lyndon Taylor
OVER 30 MILLION DOLLARS UP IN SMOKE !
2/27/12- That’s a conservative estimate of how much money the Banning City Council has squandered of your tax funds! Money that was literally thrown away on worthless projects, pie-in-the-sky schemes, and empty store fronts that resemble a Hollywood movie set more than they do thriving downtown businesses. With no oversight and no thought of sound stewardship of taxpayer money, the Council has been recklessly engaging in a spending spree that wouldn’t stop even when the Riverside Grand Jury told them to stop! What comes to mind are words like “reckless”, “irresponsible”, “egocentric” and “thoughtless”?
What may also be true is the Council’s apparent lack of business sense and an understanding of the present economic and social condition of our Nation. In any event, it seems the Council has been so wrapped up in their pet projects and personal interests that they have failed to keep watch of the big picture of the City’s deteriorating financial condition and the likely direction in which the State and Nation is moving.
It all gets back to planning, folks, you don’t build more stores and office space when you haven’t rented the space you presently have standing empty, you don’t buy real estate without having a detailed appraisal, you don’t buy a piece of property without knowing what you intend to do with it, and you don’t continue to give away money to a group after a Grand Jury tells you to stop it!
If all of this sounds a bit absurd to you, you’re starting to get the point! Absurd it is, but tragically it’s our money that the Council is enjoying; your tax money and mine, and as painful as it seems, a good deal of your money has been thrown away by this quintet of the careless.
The citizens of Banning clearly have a great deal at stake here, and ignoring the situation is not an option. Involvement is clearly the only alternative. It’s up to everyone to monitor this level of irresponsible behavior.
The following are examples of how our City government has gone astray, wasted tax dollars and squandered opportunity within the last five years:
1. SAN GORGONIO INN
The Council sold the San Gorgonio Inn property to a developer on a no money down deal where the developer does not have to come up with any cash at all for two years. Developer will have secured foreign investors who will also be issued “Green Cards” as a reward for their investments.
The developer intends to build 70,000 square feet of office, retail, and restaurant space in an area that for years has had numerous empty store and office spaces (details).
TAXPAYER LOSS: $2.8 MILLION
2. LOAN TO MURDER SUSPECT DEMARIO JACKSON
In 2008, the Banning City Council Loaned now murder suspect Demario Jackson over $500,000 who promptly defaulted on the loan. Council member Barbara Hanna received two campaign contributions from Demario Jackson, (details).
Jackson is currently awaiting trial for murder of a Beaumont resident.
TAXPAYER LOSS: $500,000 +
3. ALL STAR DODGE
City Council purchased All Star Dodge as an “Emergency” purchase in 2009 for $1.2 million without an appraisal.
TAXPAYER LOSS: $900,000 – with a total cost to the taxpayer of over $ 2.5 million
4. HAVEN COFFEE HOUSE
The City of Banning spent $ 1.2 million in taxpayer money so the Haven Coffee house could open in late 2009; it lasted only a little over a year, (detailed story).
TAXPAYER LOSS: $1.2 MILLION
5. WATER BOND PROCEEDS SPENT ON POLICE STATION
The Council votes to spend 15 million dollars of water bond money on the new police station (construction cost over $ 500/sqft.). The bond was placed in 2005 without the vote of the people and spending it on a police station violates constitutional law (Prop. 218). If this is money would have not been spent, no shortfall would have occurred in the Banning water utility.
TAXPAYER LOSS: $15 MILLION
6. BANNING CULTURAL ALLIANCE
The Council ignores Grand Jury recommendations to “cease and desist” doing business with the Banning Cultural Alliance and instead give them even more money! – After the issuance of the Grand Jury report, another $ 111,500 went to the Cultural Alliance. The cost to taxpayers in 2010 alone was approximately $ 300,000, (see Grand Jury report).
The total taxpayer money given to the Alliance exceeds One Million Dollars, with no comprehensive accounting available for the vast majority of this money!
TAXPAYER LOSS: $1 MILLION +
7. PURCHASE OF AN ART GALLERY
In 2008, the Council bought an art gallery with taxpayer money. Price tag: $ 450,000. The City vastly overpaid for the building. No significant tax revenue or jobs have been created.
TAXPAYER LOSS: $350,000
8. LOSS OF REVENUE AND JOBS DUE TO DEUTSCH PLANT CLOSURE
Between 700 and 900 jobs are lost when the Deutsch plant closes in 2009. Deutsch was Banning’s largest private industry employer. No redevelopment funds were used to keep the plant in Banning. Banning utility rates have skyrocketed; with rates 30 % higher than surrounding communities, Banning can no longer compete.
TAXPAYER LOSS: JOBS AND TAX REVENUE
9. PURCHASE OF USELESS LAND
The Council loses at least 2 million dollars in taxpayer money after they purchase 40 acres of unimproved land at the airport for $2,854,550.00 in 2007.
No one on the Council ever had a plan for this land; it is just as useless today as it was on the day they bought it.
TAXPAYER LOSS: OVER $2 MILLION
10. PURCHASE OF LAND FOR SLUDGE PLANT
The Council threatened the health and safety of Banning residents when they tried to bring the infamous Liberty Energy Sludge Incinerator project to town. They spent $430,798 in taxpayer money to purchase land to locate the project; again, there was no appraisal.
TAXPAYER LOSS: $330,000
11. BANNING BUSINESS CENTER
The Banning Business Center is a 150,000 sq ft commercial project that is located on 4th and Lincoln St… On November 28, 2006 the City of Banning funded the project with $ 500,000 in taxpayer money. Since that time the project has remained unfinished; the 2-story structure has no windows and weeds are now engulfing the property everywhere, (more).
TAXPAYER LOSS: $500,000
12. MULTIPLE “FACADE GRANTS” RESULTING IN EMPTY BUILDINGS
Façade grants were given by the City Council to improve the exterior of downtown business buildings with no control on what was happening or how the money was being spent. Some business owners were said to have laughed at the Council for giving taxpayer money away with no follow-up.
TAXPAYER LOSS: $2,480,000
( NOTE : façade/ redevelopment grants without Haven and without Demario Jackson – see pg 2+3 of this City document )
13. PURCHASE OF LAND FOR THE NEW COURT HOUSE
New Court House property – Purchased for $ 3,680,000 from a private party – was sold less than 2 years later for $ 1,009,000 to the State of California, (source : see “Ehline” transaction , pg. 1 of this City document ).
TAXPAYER LOSS $ 2,671,000
An impressive list of errors and an outright failure to perform the people’s business!
Sadly, since the inhabitants of the City Hall Council Chamber have demonstrated a dismal record in fiscal matters, the additional price that all of us must pay to stop the financial bleeding is to become watchdogs regarding everything the City Council is doing; how they are spending our money and what new schemes they are hatching.
It will involve close inspection of every City Council Agenda, contacts with Council Members on key issues, attending Council meetings and speaking our mind, discussing matters with our neighbors and friends, letters to both the Banning Informer and the local newspapers and finally, if all else fails, replacing the present Council.
This latter alternative (replacement) is a viable option, since a majority of the Council ( Barbara Hanna, Don Robinson, John Machisic ) will stand for re-election this coming fall. It may also be the simplest way to assure that this level of incompetence does not continue.
The time has come to ask, “When is fiscal mismanagement and the waste of tens of millions of tax dollars sufficient reason for a change in City Hall?”
Only the citizens of our City can answer this question.
What is your opinion?
.Lyndon Taylor is a Sun Lakes resident and former City Council candidate. In 2009 he was a driving force in Banning’s successful “Anti-Sludge” petition drive. Taylor holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Biology with a minor in Chemistry ,a Master’s Degree in Biochemistry and a PhD in Planning and Management.
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