For more than three years, Isleton – a Delta city with a population of approximately 800 – has been collecting thousands of dollars in sales tax to fund the city’s volunteer fire department. But The Sacramento Bee reported February 23 that “a review of city documents reveals a familiar pattern that raises questions about Isleton’s ability to govern itself and its roughly $1.7 million annual budget.”
The Bee continued:
“Isleton officials struggle to provide basic information about how much revenue the special sales tax raises annually, and what it’s being spent on. Receipts for spending are often vague, or nonexistent. The city has failed to maintain consistent accounting documents or form an oversight commission in a timely manner as mandated by state law and the [2016 sales tax] Measure B ballot language. The fire department has spent thousands of dollars on products and equipment with few safeguards to ensure the city is getting a good deal.”
The city placed a new sales tax increase, Measure D, on the March 3 ballot. It would increase the tax rate to 0.75 percent for five years and remove an oversight commission. The current oversight commission was not formed until 2019 – three years after the city began collecting the Measure B tax.
“The city is behind on its state-mandated audits; the most recently published one, which covers fiscal year 2016-17, failed to report on Measure B revenue and expenditures as required by the measure,” The Bee reported. “And, according to state records, Isleton’s city budgets have consistently overestimated how much money the sales tax would rake in. Despite a history of financial mismanagement and abuse, Isleton still does not have a written policy on how employees should be making purchases, such as requiring purchase orders or expense codes, said city manager Charles Bergson.”
In one case, the city’s fire chief “repeatedly purchased products from a company that has faced allegations of overcharging small fire departments across the country for excessive supplies,” The Bee stated, and failed to use a competitive bidding process for vehicle purchases. At least one car was purchased for nearly $15,000 without City Council approval.
Initial language for the tax increase on the March ballot didn’t include the expected amount of revenue it would raise, or that it would sunset, despite the state law requiring local governments to include the duration of the tax and an annual revenue estimate in the ballot question. After being notified of the omission by The Bee, the city sent out a notice to voters that Measure D would sunset in five years and would cost taxpayers an estimated $110,000 a year. (Source: The Sacramento Bee, February 25.)