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Former Mayor Speaks Out About City Finances
0516 Jackson
Former Mayor Farrell Jackson is questioning the accuracy and motive of Interim City Manager Greg Wellmans reports on Oakdales finances. - photo by Leader File Photo

Past Oakdale Mayor Farrell Jackson believes much that is being declared about the city’s financial status may not be completely accurate.

“For (Interim City Manager) Mr. Wellman to mention the City of Oakdale and compare it to Stockton and its bankruptcy problems is completely hogwash,” said Jackson, who served as Oakdale mayor from 2006 to 2010 and had been on the city council since 1998.

Jackson contends that the details being released about the South Willowood Drive Fire Station “$4.3 million bond” are not completely accurate.

According to Jackson, and confirmed by Oakdale Finance Director Albert Avila, the true debt of the bond is only $2.8 million.

The new fire station was built in the anticipation of growth and was proposed by then-City Manager Bruce Bannerman in 2004. The fee charged for new building permits was expected to pay for the bond.

“Because of the current economy and slowness of growth those building permits dropped,” Jackson said.

Jackson also cautioned the current council about its practice of “tweaking” fees and that it would be hurting itself on current revenues.

“When building picks back up there will be tons of money,” Jackson said. “If they (the council) keep cutting fees there’s going to be trouble.”

Jackson also said that cities frequently take funds out of one account and loan them to themselves to be paid back on future revenues. The practice, known as “internal loan transfers” or “enterprise funding” was used last year by the city when taking funds from the Bridle Ridge Trail Fund and moving it to pay for the city’s general plan payment.

“Inter-fund loans are a common practice in city government.” Jackson said. “As long as they stay on top of the interest there shouldn’t be a problem.”

Regarding the wastewater treatment plant, Jackson said the state mandated that the facility be built. Initial projections were that it would cost $17 to $21 million. The actual cost was $13 million.

Water usage fees were to cover the cost of the facility and a rate increase was estimated to bring in $17 million for the project.

“We were trying to be sensitive to seniors and single residents of homes so a flat-rate wouldn’t be fair,” Jackson said.

“We decided that actual water usage would be the factor and publicized the months that the percentage would be figured.”

Jackson said that there was an approximately 50-percent usage cutback by the citizens during that period, which resulted in a lower income than anticipated to the city.

A yearly 10-percent water rate increase was then imposed to make up the variance, however according to Jackson, during the transition of the current mayor and council, one year of the increase was missed that could have cost the city between $300,000 to $500,000.

“For Mr. Wellman to criticize what is happening in Oakdale when the same is happening in Atwater is despicable,” said Jackson.

Wellman was city manager of Atwater from 2002 to 2010.

Jackson identified a 2012 City of Atwater report that its water and sanitation “enterprise funds” were operating at a “significant deficit.” By the end of the 2009-10 fiscal year, the Atwater water fund had a loss of $1.7 million and its sanitation fund had a climbing deficit of $3.2 million.

“I compare Mr. Wellman to a carpetbagger,” said Jackson, who claimed Wellman is only trying to enhance his government retirement. “He identifies a problem and then creates a job for himself at taxpayer expense.”

For his part, Wellman said criticism – justified or not - is something that comes with the job.

“After 45 years in this business I have learned to concentrate on objective facts and hard data, realizing that others have a right to their opinions,” Wellman said when told of Jackson’s accusations and comments. “I’d be happy to sit down and talk with Mr. Jackson anytime.”