After Kingman’s bruising November election, where lawsuits, campaign sign theft, large amounts of special interest spending and complaints dominated the landscape, two results stand out. First, two people who had never ran for public office, Deana Nelson and Ken Watkins were overwhelmingly elected to the City Council. Ken’s $20,000 lawsuit forced the City to follow the statutes. Second, the citizens overwhelmingly rejected the 1 percent sales tax (TPT) increase. At 62-38 in favor of repeal, it wasn’t close. Now the City must come back to the people for any future increase.
That increase had the business community loudly protesting … which fell on deaf ears. The City Council, led by then Vice Mayor Jen Miles and Councilman Travis Lingenfelter, claimed in August 2017 Kingman was essentially broke after the worst decade since the Great Depression. They strongly believed and promoted this tax increase as vital to the needs of the City for a “Brighter Future,” as developer Bill Lenhart’s PAC loudly proclaimed.
Before Prop 413 went on the ballot (the result of another lawsuit), talk was about development of I-40 interchanges, Kingman Crossing and Rattlesnake Wash. Afterward, the talk was about funding for pavement preservation, needed fire stations and preventing financial Armageddon. With the repeal of the tax, now the duty of the new City Council is to stop crying “The Sky is Falling!” and start governing.
The City’s financial picture, after you strip away all the hype and rhetoric, is definitely not what was portrayed last fall, not even close. Dispensing with my bad habit of throwing too many figures and details, it still is important to present facts. Fiscal Year 2007, before the Great Recession, was the last “good” year in Kingman’s finances, so they say.
Kingman was in the middle of an economic boom, with dramatic economic and population growth. The City’s finances in 2007 were healthy as well. General Fund revenues were $25 million with $23 million expenditures. The cash reserves on June 30 were over $7.3 million. All the City’s fund revenues, including water, sewer and garbage, totaled $51 million, with spending at $40 million. All cash fund balances totaled $32 million. City employment jumped from 300 to 376 in just four years. Kingman’s government was fat and sassy. Then came the Great Recession; everything went to hell in a handbasket.
The decade was topsy-turvy, impacting everyone, essentially ending with the election of President Donald Trump. Everything was a mess, so you’d expect the same to be true for the City of Kingman’s finances, right? Not so fast.
In FY2017, while the City experienced issues in the previous decade, their finances were a stark contrast to many people and businesses. Instead of shrinking, Kingman’s government grew. General Fund revenues increased to $28 Million, with $25 Million expenditures. The cash reserves increased to a whopping $17.5 million. Further, all the City’s funds saw revenues jump to $57 million with expenses nearly $53 million. Cash reserves skyrocketed to over $73 million. Employment, which dipped to 332, rebounded to 374, while the rest of Mohave County was mired in a recession, the City government grew dramatically. They didn’t survive, they thrived.
Then six weeks later, the City Council, led by Miles and Lingenfelter, pled poverty and added the 1 percent TPT, bringing the rate up to 9.35 percent with the City’s portion at 3.5 percent. Thankfully, the people said, “No.”
Now they’re pleading poverty, threatening to stop construction of a new fire station, perhaps letting streets go to hell. The problem was the City Council ignored the negative impact on the private sector. Perhaps that’s due to several City Council members being lifelong government employees.
They appeared to only focus on the increased revenue to the City; not the negative impact. Lingenfelter called business leaders greedy and selfish, even anti-growth and development: ridiculous. The Council, seeing only more revenue, was in fact acting greedy and dishonest.
It’s time for them to take an honest, transparent look at the City’s resources and come up with real solutions, not doomsday scenarios. The people deserve no less. There are answers to be found. With the new members of the City Council, perhaps they will.