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.
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