CALIFORNIA CITY — Following a lengthy City Council debate over a instituting a hiring freeze for city personnel on Tuesday, two competing mo­tions failed, meaning the council effectively took no action on the matter.

Councilman Nick Les­sen­e­vitch proposed the hir­ing freeze, based on con­cerns that the 2018-2019 budget does not have suf­fi­cient continuing rev­enues to support the pro­posed new positions it contained.

“A job position is a prom­ise the city is going keep those people in permanent em­ployment. I don’t feel that this is particularly true with this particular bud­get,” Lessenevitch said. “The problem is in the budget I don’t see in­come that is continuous to guar­an­tee revenue to con­tin­ue new employees, and I’m not event sure we have enough for current em­ploy­ees.”

Lessenevitch said that rev­enue projections for the city’s nascent marijuana industry are too optimistic to support permanent po­si­tions, and also initially expressed concerns about segregating those revenues to be used solely to support the industry, not other city functions.

“I don’t know if that ac­tiv­ity is sustainable. To me, it isn’t,” he said.

High legal costs and pro­ject­ed losses for the Tierra Del Sol golf course and air­port funds also fueled his feeling that the city can not afford to hire new per­sonnel, other than the pub­lic safety positions that were laid out in the 2017-2018 budget.

“I think the budget needs reworking to help us re­assess working with the money we have,” Les­sen­e­vitch said.

He suggested that re­as­sessment come with a mid-year budget review, which according to staff will not be likely until March.

The hiring freeze was sup­ported by Mayor Pro Tem Gene Stump, par­tic­ip­ating by phone from Las Vegas, and Councilman Don­ald Parris. Both want­ed to include a freeze on hiring consultants, as well.

Stump argued the city did not need the aid of consultants and that de­partments such as finance are sufficiently staffed.

Mayor Chuck McGuire and Councilwoman Tami Johnson spoke against a hiring freeze, stating the employees are needed, particularly to allow the city handle the additional work­load of the marijuana industry.

“If we want them here, we need to make a con­cert­ed effort to show them that we do want them here,” John­son said of the in­dustry.

McGuire said the city is trying to regain ground lost with the departure of employees who sought jobs elsewhere during the financial uncertainty last year when the city looked to lose a significant portion of its revenues with the failure of a renewed special parcel tax. That tax was overwhelmingly approved by voters in July.

“To ask for a freeze right now, I can not agree with that at all. That is a step backwards,” he said. “The thinking that has been displayed is the same type of thinking that has oc­curred in this city for the last 30 years. It is the same type of thinking that has failed to make this city move forward. It is time to get out of the 1980s and the uncertainties and move into the 21st century.”

City Manager Robert Stock­well was forceful in his opposition to the pro­po­sal, stating personnel were needed in order to ac­complish the goals the coun­cil has set.

“Frankly, I’m baffled. A year ago November you hired me to come in and try to get the city on track,” he said, which included mo­ving forward with the mar­i­jua­na industry and that hir­ing additional personnel would be necessary to do so.

He finds it “rather mir­ac­u­lous” the city has such bus­inesses being es­tab­lished without having hired city employees so far.

Instead, there has been “no recognition of what’s been done with the resources, just finger-point­ing,” Stockwell said.

“What is it you want? Do we want to encourage this industry to come to our community to invest mil­lions of dollars in our com­mu­nity? We can’t do it with the staff we have now,” he said. “You’ve got to spend money to make things hap­pen.”

Public opinion on the mat­ter also ran against a hiring freeze, primarily in re­gard to providing suf­fi­cient staffing to ensure the marijuana industry is able to overcome the grow­ing pains and delays that have prevented its es­tablishment to the degree originally hoped.

The first vote on the mat­ter, on a motion put forth by McGuire to table the matter until after a mid-year budget review in March, was defeated on a 3-2 vote, with only Mc­Guire and Johnson voting in favor.

It was followed by a mo­tion from Stump to freeze all hiring for staff and con­sult­ants until after the mid-year budget review. Par­ris amended the motion to include a provision that staff could seek council ap­pro­val for individual po­sitions deemed absolutely necessary.

Immediately, the city en­gin­eer position, which was discussed by the coun­cil earlier in the meeting, was named by city staff as a position absolutely es­sen­tial to be filled in order for the city to function. The city has decided to move from a contracted engineer to a city employee and is in the process of hiring for the position.

Stump’s motion also failed on a 3-2 vote, with only Parris and Stump voting in favor of it.

To share your opinion on this article or any other article, write a letter to the editor and email it to editor@avpress.com or mail it to Letters to Editor, PO Box 4050, Palmdale CA 93590-4050.

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