By Sandra Emerson, Redlands Daily Facts
Posted: 09/24/14, 1:26 AM PDT | Updated: 8 hrs ago

REDLANDS >> The six candidates running for City Council on Tuesday participated in their first forum of the campaign season hosted by the Redlands Chamber of Commerce.

The candidates were asked questions submitted by the Chamber members and the public about public employee pensions, the hiring of consultants, funding for street repaving, public safety and building a new police station, among other topics.

The candidates – Paul Barich, Neil Derry, Jane Dreher, Paul Foster, Jon Harrison and John Montgomery – participated in the forum, each taking turns to answer questions posed by audience and those watching from home.

Incumbents Foster and Harrison are seeking re-election to their positions and a third seat is up for grabs.

A trash fee increased approved by the City Council in 2012 was the most common topic discussed by candidates.

All candidates were asked for their views on “imposing utility charges to circumvent taxing limitations imposed by majority vote of the electorate,” which some candidates understood to be in reference to the city’s trash fee increase to help fund the Pavement Accelerated Repair Implementation Strategy, or PARIS program.

Dreher said she believes it is an innovative way to fund infrastructure work and that voters are not in favor of increases as was discovered during a recent survey taken to gauge public opinion on a proposed flood control bond and parcel tax to fund repairs to sidewalks, ADA ramps and trees.

“There are other ways to fund these over a period of time with the general fund and enterprise funds getting better because of the economy,” she said. “Hopefully we can solve those problems without taking it to a vote.”

Foster said the city followed the guidelines in place from Proposition 218, which requires a jurisdiction to go through a public process if they wish to increase utility fees.

“We did that in terms of the rate adjustments we have made,” he said. “We have resounding support from the public under proposition 218 for the waste refuse rates increase we had for the PARIS program, so there has been no circumvention of any legal process.”

Montgomery followed Foster on the matter by saying “I think it’s wrong and immoral to find ways to circumvent the taxpayers and the voters by introducing and inventing new taxes, called something else, fees, just to get around and siphon these funds.”

Derry said he does believe the city council circumvented voter will by not putting the trash fee increase to a vote.

“I do believe if a resident were to file a lawsuit under proposition 218, the fee could very easily be overturned,” Derry said. “Since we’re bonding against that revenue now it would leave a tremendous obligation to the general fund if that did happen.”

Harrison said the city went through the proper process and received very few protests from the community.

“I think in large measure we did a very good job informing the community,” he said. “Studies have been done to establish the nexus that was needed to demonstrate the fees were justified. They were legally defensible and they were resulting in the project repaving the streets that the community genuinely desired.”

Barich said he is not sure if the city circumvented the voters, but any time they increase fees or taxes they do need the electorate to give them a thumbs up.

“The problem with government a lot of time is sometimes it’s tendency to hide things,” he said. “I think we need to be forthright and if people really like a project or really need something, I’ve never known people, especially in Redlands to not vote for something that is really needed for the taxpayers. Let’s trust the people.”

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