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Council Unanimous On New Budget

POSTED June 22, 2011 12:10 a.m.
The City of Oakdale will enter the 2011-2012 fiscal year with a balanced budget, approved unanimously by council members at the Monday, June 20 city council meeting.
Over the last three years the city has cut over $3.4 million from its general fund budget resulting in loss of personnel and services. Earlier this year, former City Manager Steve Hallam asked department heads to cut 10 percent from their budgets to cover a $760,000 shortfall for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
In May, the balanced budget proposal included reducing the fire department by laying off two firefighter positions and the police department losing two positions due to retirements.
Acting City Manager Mike Botto presented the budget proposal to the council highlighting that current public safety staffing would be maintained for at least seven months and be re-evaluated due to potential increases to revenue based on the November 2011 vote on a half-cent sales tax measure.
No layoffs would occur in the fire department and two previously laid off police officers would be rehired to cover the future retirements.
The budget also includes keeping the community center and senior center open, pending the same mid-year reevaluation.
“The budget does include a reduction in our workforce and cuts to our city services,” Botto said during the presentation.
Some of the presented cuts include going from a full-time to part-time city manager, elimination of a volunteer coordinator, and cutting a parks maintenance employee. Landscape maintenance to many city facilities is also eliminated.
The budget sets aside $40,000 in county jail booking fees and does not include $100,000 state funding for the police department as part of vehicle license fees, all of which could be reversed by the legislature when the state passes its budget.
The approved budget drops the general fund reserves to $1.28 million, or 15.4 percent of budgeted expenses, significantly below the council’s adopted policy of 20 percent.
“For the first time in many years, revenues are stabilizing,” said Botto, offering some hopeful news to offset the losses.
Councilman Michael Brennan reminded citizens that there are very few ways the city gets revenue such as sales and property taxes and sewer and water fees.
“This is a nearly balanced budget,” said Brennan when he voiced his approval for the vote. “It’s only a few thousand out of kilter.”
In an item that created visible dissention on the council dais, Councilman Jason Howard presented an idea on public works restructuring titled, “Making Public Works Work.”
Howard described the current public works department structure as “top heavy” and without any overlapping of duties or intra-department collaboration.
The public works restructure proposal included elimination of the deputy director of the department and having the director be more of a “working manager” involved in the day-to-day duties of the division. It also included project managers and true “supervisors” within the department reporting to the director.
Howard estimated his proposal would save approximately $140,000 for the city.
Before the item was opened for discussion, Botto interjected that he had concerns with Howard’s actions by not first going through the city manager. Botto questioned Howard’s proposal since the Oakdale City Code establishes that the city council ‘shall deal with administrative issues’ through the city manager first.
Botto also said he had other legal concerns of the proposal since the city’s labor group’s interests were affected.
City Attorney Tom Hallinan supported Botto, stating there were “meet and confer” issues that had to be addressed in the proposal.
Councilman Tom Dunlop also asked Howard why he didn’t first propose the structure change to the city manager and also asked why the council wasn’t properly noticed.
Councilwoman Katherine Morgan also was quizzical, stating this was the first she heard of the subject.
“We make rules for a purpose,” Dunlop admonished Howard.
Botto continued that he was concerned about the idea of proposing and putting up a whole organization without discussing it first. He noted that several public works employees had attended the meeting, stating that it caused stress to those involved.
Mayor Pat Paul offered that Howard was only presenting an idea, and ideas should be encouraged whether they were from the public or the council.
“It’s just food for thought,” said Howard, who also commented that he did not know if it was a Brown Act violation to discuss it with the others first. “Current models for government aren’t working, they’re breaking.”
After the meeting, Public Works Director Joe Leach described Howard’s proposal as “intriguing.” He also said he would have concerns about the span of control of such a set up.
In other actions, the council approved reopening the airport hangar proposal and advertising it to a wider base for a larger response.
The council also addressed establishing an ad hoc committee for the airport, replacing the dissolved airport commission, to create a master plan for the facility’s future.
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