Two departmental budget cuts and an agreement to combine the cost centers for all departmental internal services and employee retirement charges into a single cost center led to the final approval of the $81-million-dollar budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 by the Hemet City Council, July 25.
The new 2017-2018 Hemet city budget approval did not come easily, requiring five different budget meetings and workshops since it was first introduced, May 30. Public meetings and workshops requested by councilmembers who were not satisfied with the budget recommendations were conducted June 13, June 20, June 27 and July 11. Mayor Pro Tem Michael Perciful and Councilwoman Karlee Meyer, the council’s two newest members voted into office in November 2016 demanded the city staff be more transparent with the council and the public in presenting each of the departments’ new fiscal year budget proposals.
Councilwoman Bonnie Wright first agreed with Meyer and Perciful in asking for additional public hearings and discussions, but at the last meeting joined with Mayor Linda Krupa and appointed Councilman Russ Brown to finally approve the budget in a 3 to 2 vote. Meyer and Perciful voted, “No.”
Perciful said during the discussion before the vote, “We need to stop playing shell games with the budget, and we need to have a chance to look into it and set the budget based on the priorities of this council with the priorities of the people who voted us in.”
He said he was not comfortable with the budget.
Meyer said she was uncomfortable with the engineering department’s salaries and the service being provided by the current department. She asked to table the budget decision until after the closed session.
Councilman Russ Brown read a statement seeking the council approve the budget that night because of a critical need to fill the vacant positions in the city’s finance, engineering and other departments.
Wright pleaded the council come to a compromise that evening and to pass the budget, so they could later come back to see how the departments had done with their new budgets in the next three months.
In the motion approving the budget, there were four changes approved in the amended Draft Budget including budget reductions in the engineering capital financing and the city attorney departments. The motion decreased the city engineer capital fund from the requested $728,000 to $450,000 and the city attorney budget from the requested $1,425,000 to an even $1 million.
It also removed each department’s internal service and employee medical benefit charges and placed them in a single citywide budget line. It was argued that the costs of necessary technical equipment and the medical and retirement costs of employees should not be charged department by department but through a single citywide cost center.
The approved 2017-2018 city budget and the changes made will be reviewed again in the quarterly budget review in October and could be revised.
Before the final vote Councilwoman Meyer made a motion not only to cut the capital engineering budget and the city attorney costs but to call a complete “hiring freeze” on all new employees with the exception of the public safety departments hiring needs. This motion brought responses from Wright, Brown and Krupa who noted that the city is already lacking some key positions of people necessary to keep the city moving ahead.
These included positions left open positions for a new city finance director and city engineer. Joy Canfield who was hired as a financial consultant for the city as an interim finance director completed her contract, and no new city engineer has been found to replace senior city engineer Derek Wieske, who resigned for personal reasons.
The first motion with the engineering and city attorney budget reductions and the cost center changes along with the hiring freeze was defeated in a 3-2 vote with Meyer and Perciful voting for it.