CALIFORNIA CITY — The City Council on Thursday approved a $27.17 million budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, despite requests by two council members to postpone a decision until after new council members are seated next week and they have an opportunity to have a say in the document.
The council voted 3-2 to approve the budget in a special meeting, with council members Donald Parris and Gene Stump dissenting.
The budget as approved was refined over a series of budget workshops in previous weeks.
As approved, the budget is based on projected revenues of nearly $29.03 million, leaving an excess of about $1.85 million at the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
This is actually the third budget the council has approved for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which began July 1.
The city has been operating under an interim budget, passed in two parts, since the July 1 start of the fiscal year. The first, approved June 26, was a two-month budget to allow the city to continue to operate under the 2017-2018 budget until after the July 31 election in which voters were asked to approve a special parcel tax to provide funding for the city’s police and fire departments.
Without the special tax, the city would lose a significant portion of its revenue and be required to make drastic cuts, including laying off as many as 41 city employees.
Once the special tax passed, the City Council approved a second interim budget in August, which extended the existing budget authority for three months, to Nov. 30. This was intended to allow time to audit city operations and craft a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year.
City officials, however, were unable to find an outside firm willing to perform an operations audit, so that has not been part of the budget process.
With the end of the interim budget on Nov. 30, the city needed spending authority from a new budget.
That was one reason for not waiting for the new council to be seated on Dec. 11 to approve a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year.
“I take it as an offense that we want to push this over onto the next council. Why am I here then?” Mayor Pro Tem Carlos Gomez said. Gomez did not seek re-election in the Nov. 6 election and will be leaving the council at the next meeting.
“I’m here to get this thing done,” he said.
As for some of the debate regarding the budget details, he reminded the council that they were considering work prepared by experienced professionals.
“This budget wasn’t composed solely by our finance director and our city manager,” Gomez said.
It was created in conjunction with the experienced and well-qualified police and fire chiefs and public works director, he said.
“This didn’t just come out of the blue. These department heads we say that we respect come up with what they need, and then we’re all of a sudden not in agreement with it,” he said. “I think we’re in a situation where we’re two sides disagreeing.”
One complaint Parris had in reviewing the budget was ongoing spending by City Manager Robert Stockwell for items such as recruiting management personnel without first clearing the spending with the City Council, even for funds that had been budgeted.
“My concern is that Mr. Stockwell does not come to this council to ask us to spend the money, he just spends it,” Parris said. “I don’t care what the cost is. I care that we’re not being put in the loop when it comes to money being spent from the city.”
Stockwell said he used funds that had been budgeted for positions that were vacant to recruit personnel.
“We did not overspend the amount of money allocated by the council,” he said.
“I don’t think we want to micromanage any of the decisions. We give general guidelines, we know things are going to cost money,” Mayor Jennifer Wood said. “We need these positions filled.”
Wood agreed communication could be improved in terms of the city manager telling the council what he is doing in terms of hiring in general terms, but she cautioned about making the specifics public during the hiring process.
“The cost is something that maybe you could tell council … but I just don’t think the council and public should vet our employees on Facebook,” she said.
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