Hemet City Council hears potential revenue losses due to stay at home orders

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The Hemet City Council learned from the city manager that the pandemic is certain to affect the city’s 2020-2012 general fund budget as the city potentially won’t be able to hire six or more public safety workers and will likely make other drastic changes.

Hemet city manager Chris Lopez gave his report at the April 14 city council meeting. The governor’s stay at home order, which closed down almost all of the city nonessential businesses since March, is costing the city in sales tax, bed tax and other revenues amounting to an average of $33,000 per day with an anticipated loss of millions by the end of the fiscal year in June. It is also affecting the Measure U sales tax revenues, while increasing public safety response costs.

“The council will have some significant policy decisions to make in the next few months. At minimum, this includes the funding of approximately six public safety personnel, and over $1 million in public safety maintenance and operations costs that the General Fund cannot carry. This is in addition to the existing operations funded by Measure U,” Lopez told the council.

“The council will have the option of utilizing Measure U revenues, its emergency reserves or reductions in workforce. This scenario is only made worse as our budget targets did not anticipate COVID-19 and the impacts to our local economy, a reality that we need to face head on in order to do what is best for the city of Hemet.”

He added that some changes are already taking place during the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, we have had to pull back a number of job offers to try and lessen our expenditures and preserve our flexibility,” he said and noted he had already told city staff.

“Given that reality, we are planning operational changes in the fire department to include reducing overtime to lessen our expenditures,” Lopez said. “We will place Medic 2 in service at Station 5. These changes will go into effect in the upcoming week. This is needed to respond to our current reality. This means lessening expenditures while we can and not await a decrease in sales tax remitted to the city. Every day of inaction now will require more drastic action in the future. This change will not result in any reduction of personnel in the fire department. All personnel will remain employed with this action.”

Meanwhile, he said the city has employed creative ways to avoid contact with the public during the pandemic, while continuing to provide public service and essential development activities. Those efforts are in compliance with the state and county health officials’ order for all residents, except essential workers, to “stay at home.”

He said that, “To date, approximately 35 employees are telecommuting, plan submittals are being accepted electronically for engineering and community development and during business hours, members of the public can drop paper plans into a drop box outside, then we quarantine those plans for 48 hours before removing them.

“City inspectors have been directed to do ‘windshield surveys’ and not interact with the public. Building and safety inspections are being conducted via Facetime, and all material coming into the library is quarantined for 72 hours,” Lopez said.

The council, with all five members present but wearing masks and observing social distancing, asked Lopez to keep them informed of any changes.

In other business, the council postponed a proposed ordinance prohibiting the construction of private detention facilities for unaccompanied minors in the city until the April 28 meeting.

They approved a project requested by the fire and police departments to replace the outdated Public Safety Microwave Radio System with a cost not to exceed $626,767.16. Petroleum Telecom was the best value bidder of 11 bidders applying. Pegasus Consulting Group was selected to prepare the current radio communication system for the new microwave system.

Police Chief Eddie Pust said that the current system was built in 1999 and uses a system of microwave radios that rely on what is now consumer-grade technology. The system is at the end of its technological life, and the older components are hard to find and replace. The new system will utilize state-of-the-art technology that will link three remote city radio sites back to the LMR radio control site within police dispatch.

The council discussed and approved a restated cooperative agreement between the city, San Jacinto and Riverside County Flood Control and Water Conservation District for the construction of a drainage plan line would provide significant drainage improvements to State Street in the city from Menlo Street to Esplanade Avenue, which experience regular flooding issues during most rain events.

The engineering and public works departments requested that RCFC utilize unexpended funds proposed for the Little Lake Master Drainage Plan Line B to cover the city’s financial contribution toward the construction of Line E-2 in an amount of $1,570,000. The city authorized the city manager to enter into the joint agreement in a unanimous vote.

The council also resolved to approve an agreement with Advance Planning LLC to initiate the Senate Bill 2 Planning Grant Program and appropriated $310,000 and a corresponding revenue increase for grant reimbursement for the grant program.

They discussed updates and changes from the California Building Code Update requested earlier by the council with more update discussions planned in four sessions. The codes dealing with squatters occupying red tagged buildings was one of the items being reviewed by the council seeking more clarification.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.