City of Stafford in good financial shape

March 24, 2010 5:44:04 PM PDT
While a lot of cities are dealing with a budget problems or shortfalls, one small town in our area is debt free and even has a surplus. We've heard so many stories over the last couple of years about local and large governments having problems with the recession. Revenues are down, expenses are up and they're having trouble making ends meet. However, that is not the case at all in the small town of Stafford.

Rodney Montelongo loves living in Stafford.

"The environment. You have a small town effect out here even though you're surrounded by a big city," said Montelongo.

Believe it or not, his affection even extends to the local government.

"It's awesome. Never had any problems. The city makes good money. The mayor gets involved with everything," Montelongo said.

Leonard Scarcella is the mayor of Stafford and even in this difficult economy, with sales tax revenue down 20 percent, he's presiding over a budget surplus.

"We do it with fiscal responsibility," said Mayor Scarcella.

That might be an understatement. In his 40 years as mayor, Scarcella has helped amass nearly as much in reserves at the city spends in a year - roughly $30 million. They have virtually no debt.

"All of the monies we get go directly into improvements or equipment or whatever. There are no interest payments, escrow payments, all these other things that literally take money and just go to some unknown holder," Mayor Scarcella said.

By refusing to accrue debt when times were good, the city has less to worry about now.

"The rainy day is here. We took a hit from this recession. No question about it," said the mayor. "We've got to maintain the services at the same level as before, and we're doing that with the reserves that we've built up over the years."

To top it off, the 20,000 people who live here don't pay a single red cent to the city in the way of property taxes.

Two-thirds of the city's budget comes from sales tax. It's done a lot to encourage businesses to locate and stay here. The city also collects money from its 19 hotels that help fund the Stafford Center, which is in turn another money maker.

"We're doing it without borrowing. We're doing it without in any way putting ourselves in financial constraints or some of these smoke and mirror games that some people are playing," said Mayor Scarcella.

The city will dip into its reserves this year, but it will pay cash for everything - running the courts, police, fire, and parks - and a $3 million project to beautify and landscape part of the city's seven square miles. It's a piece of heaven as far as Rodney Montelongo is concerned.

"No, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else," said Montelongo.

It seems the vast majority of those living in Stafford like the way the government has been handling its finances. The mayor has been elected to 11 two-year terms and he says his last serious challenge was 11 years ago and he got only 80 percent of the vote.


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