Murrieta faces budget shortfall amid districting woes

Murrieta is facing a budget shortfall of over $1 million for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 budgets, approved by the city council June 6.

To balance the budget, the city will draw from its economic contingency fund $1.2 million in 2017-18 and $1.7 million in 2018-19.

“In two years, we have no more contingency,” said Murrieta Councilman Randon Lane during Tuesday night’s meeting.

He said while the council can hope for the economic development department to bring in more companies to increase the city’s tax base, he feels the city should take steps now to make cuts and rein in spending.

“We don’t then we’re at a negative,” Lane said. “And that’s a big problem for me. And so, knowing it’s coming, I think we should be taking steps right now.”

Murrieta Mayor Rick Gibbs said the council will be looking to the city’s finance staff to guide them through the process of restructuring the budget in the coming years, if necessary.

“We will do what is necessary to keep this city solvent, no matter what that means,” Gibbs said.

During the same meeting, the city approved a contract with Kim Summers, who will replace Rick Dudley as city manager, who has served the city since 2007 and will be retiring July 1.

Summers will receive an annual salary of approximately $235,000.

During discussion on the matter, Gibbs said that in his view, the salary is a very fair number in relation to other nearby cities.

The city of Temecula, he pointed out, pays its city manager about $225,000, despite the city’s lack of responsibility for fire and police services, which it contracts out to Riverside County.

“$235,000 is a fair number,” Gibbs said. “In fact, it’s a bargain number. And I look forward to great things from Ms. Summers in the years to come, and I hope like Mr. Dudley, she’s here for a decade.”

June 6 was also the council’s second of four public hearings on changing to district-based elections for city council. Murrieta’s five councilmembers are currently elected at-large.

In March, the city received a letter from the law firm of Shenkman & Hughes asserting the city was disenfranchising minorities by not using district-based voting.

A number of citizens came out to express their opposition to the proposed move to voting by districts instead of at-large as the city has done since its incorporation in 1991.

“I do not want my vote taken away,” said Murrieta resident Stella Stephens. “District voting means that I’m going to be able to vote for one person rather than five.”

Javier Hermosillo said he feels the city is being bullied.

“Voters have the right to make their determinations,” Hermosillo said. “Not a lawyer who is using a law that is a cash cow for him.”

In all, only one resident spoke in favor of district voting.

“District voting is not tyranny,” said Joshua Knight. “District voting is not taking votes away from individuals. District voting will allow individuals to be voted in and we will have city councilmembers that will represent those areas. And that is the aim, ultimately, of what our democracy should be. Providing a voice to everyone. Providing representation to everyone. And that no neighborhood is favored for development or for perks over any other.”

The entire council was also opposed to the plans.

“All five of use up here believe everything you said,” Gibbs said, addressing those in support of at-large voting.

“Folks, we agree with you,” said councilmember Kelly Seyarto. “We don’t want this any more than any of you do. But we also have the additional responsibility of ensuring that we don’t go broke trying to do something that no other city seems to have been able to do.”

No city has won a lawsuit against Shenkman and Hughes over district voting.

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