Poor Little Rich City
Carmel balks on bills from ambulance district, elections department.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
It’s the richest city on the Peninsula, but in recent months Carmel-by-the-Sea has stonewalled two local agencies, hesitating to pay their outstanding bills.
Carmel paid a $43,000 balance to the cash-strapped Carmel Valley Fire District several months late, after some haggling. The city still hasn’t squared up on about $17,000 owed to the Monterey County Elections Department for the city’s special election in April.
The fire district and the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea comprise Carmel Regional Fire Ambulance, a joint powers authority under which the district provides ambulance services to both Carmel city and valley.
In the winter, consultants for the district – which is facing a $1 million budget shortfall – determined it was subsidizing the city by doing the billing, human resources and vehicle maintenance work for ambulance services, Fire Chief Mike Urquides says. So the district handed the city a $43,000 retroactive bill.
“The bill should’ve gone up years ago. We need to be paid for our staff time appropriately,” Urquides says. “They kept stalling on their payment. One meeting they gave it to us, one meeting they took it back, one meeting they said we had to wait.”
The city eventually paid the bill, reluctantly. “Why should it be retroactive in a time everyone is fighting for money?” asks Gerard Rose, Carmel City Councilman and CRFA board president.
The city also made some changes to the JPA: Carmel will take over CRFA administration, and ambulance revenue will be split more equitably between the city and the district. The goal, Rose says, is to ensure neither entity subsidizes the other.
Although the resolution extends the 18-year-old JPA for a year, the fire district is now considering dissolving it. The decision may hinge on the outcome of August’s Measure F, a special tax for Carmel Valley residents to support the ambulance service.
“Within the year, Carmel Valley [Fire District] will re-evaluate our commitment to the JPA,” Urquides says.
While the city has reached a temporary truce with the fire district, an outstanding bill to the county Elections Department is still past due, says Registrar of Voters Linda Tulett.
Statewide changes to ballot-counting procedures roughly doubled the operational cost of Carmel’s election, which is held in April, outside of the regular June and November cycles. The city prepares its own ballot, but the county does the counting and supervision.
“The county has an obligation to recoup those costs and not have to pay for city elections,” Tulett says. “We were not recouping full costs in the past under my predecessor.”
Supervisor Dave Potter says the city has been billed too little under former registrar Tony Anchundo, who in 2006 pleaded no contest to embezzling taxpayer dollars.
Carmel still hasn’t forked over the money, but city officials are working with the county on a payment plan. “We do intend to pay it,” says City Administrator Rich Guillen. “We just want to make sure we understand what we’re paying for.”