While the coronavirus pandemic has made a significant impact on Hemet’s 2020-2021 budget, residents were assured by the city manager, staff and council that there will be no furloughs for public safety employees. Police officers received a 6% salary increase in 2020.
Chris Lopez, Hemet city manager, said in response to an inquiry by the Valley News, “COVID-19 has had significant impacts to our budget. The financial model presented to the mayor and city council in January 2020 showed that even with Measure U, the city was headed toward fiscal insolvency.
“Maintaining existing spending levels from previous years would have depleted all of the city’s reserves including Measure U reserves in just a few years. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated that fiscal reality. The approved budget does not use emergency reserves for ongoing and recurring expenditures. The city of Hemet still remains under state audit due to the financial issues identified by the state auditor in 2016,” he said.
Since the budget’s passage, there have been several claims from residents that the latest fiscal year 2020-2021 Measure U budget is in violation of Resolutions 4703 and 4231 which restricts the use of the unused yearly balance for public safety only.
Measure U is a one-cent sales tax that by resolution specifically helps fund the police and fire departments. In its fiscal year 2019-2020 budget, the city approved the use of any fund balance for public safety expenditures, according to Lopez. Even with that addition, the council is requesting the staff to revisit the resolution as the items contained within need to be evaluated.
He said, “There is not an urgency resolution required to fund police and fire with Measure U revenues or fund balance.”
Still the city, in its effort to maintain its “balanced” fiscal year 2020-2021 budget, is managing to retain all of its public safety employees in the police and fire departments and in all other departments, there are still challenges ahead for the city council as the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues.
“The financial impacts of COVID-19 are noted everywhere and it requires reductions in all departments. Our revenues are expected to decline by over $7 million in 15 months. Vacant positions were eliminated from the budget. Maintaining existing expenditure levels would have required the use of emergency reserves for ongoing expenditures, which is something I did not recommend,” Lopez said.
Tony Ault can be reached by email at email@example.com.