The Susanville City Council approved an $18.3 million 2019-2020 budget Wednesday, June 19 — including deficit spending of $568,911.
The council passed the budget by a 4-1 vote with only Mayor Kevin Stafford voting against the measure. However, councilmembers agreed with a stipulation from Brian Wilson that there will be a road map out of the deficit spending presented by the city’s last meeting in September.
June 13 budget workshop
Talks of possible budget cuts, combining departments and even letting go the city’s golf course were all discussed at a passionate city council’s workshop about next year’s budget on Thursday, June 13.
Right at the beginning of discussions Councilmember Brian Wilson told the council, “If we don’t have any solutions, I’d be voting no on a negative budget.”
Wilson told the council that it could be a long haul to get a sales tax measure passed, and that rather than betting strictly upon its passage (which only addresses 75 percent of the city’s budget anyway) the council should look into solutions outside of it.
Wilson had previously spoken to staff about the possibility of the city going back to its older rates for CalPERS.
Susanville’s Finance Manager Deborah Savage said, “It’s an item that can be done, but there are certain steps you have to follow to get back to where you were,” and that, “it will not create the savings that we hope it will, because most of our expenses are coming from our retired members, and their beneficiaries.”
In order to see that realized, the first major hurdle the city would have to overcome is getting a vote from every bargaining unit.
Mayor Kevin Stafford told those in attendance, “Firstly … we need to go to freezing unfilled positions. We need to freeze salary and benefits for now. We need to find our way out of this hole,” and that he thought the department heads should come up with a plan for a 20 percent reduction.
Councilmember Mendy Schuster recommended the city look at its excess properties to sell as a short-term resolution.
“I would hope we would do that before we start cutting positions,” she said.
Councilmember Brian Moore stepped up and said when “services suffer, you start putting people’s lives in danger, and I’m not willing to do that.”
Victoria Estrada, the youth services officer with the Susanville Police Department, spoke up during the meeting.
“I sit there and I listen to the radio nonstop, and if the chief’s gone, or one of the supervisors are gone and then we have somebody out on an injury, or somebody out on training, and then we have our two patrols … and (we’re) asking for backup from somebody … and five calls pending. God forbid a 911 call happens,” said Estrada. “I can’t see how our department can cut.”
Estrada emphasized that these situations happen frequently and that it scared her to hear of a possible 20 percent reduction within the department.
Councilmember Wilson recommended the city’s staff start working on “ideas of other ways for us to save some money,” and that “even if the (sales tax) measure passes, we still have 25 percent of the city that is not covered by that, so how are we going to take care of that part?”
Councilmember Wilson spoke about past talks surrounding the idea of looking at combining of certain city and county departments, and that he thought it would not be something people would want to do.
City Administrator Mike Wilson, after listening to councilmember discussions said, “If the council desires staff to take some action, I think one of the things staff is looking for is direction,” and shared a recommendation, albeit, he thought would be unpopular, “My recommendation would be … to get rid of our golf course.”
In fact, Savage told the council that the golf course was “still negative (in) cash.”
Franco welcomed entertaining the thought of the city putting the golf course up for sale, but didn’t think it would be the “magic pill that’s going to help us.”
Councilmember Wilson said that although it would be a “short-term stop gap” the golf course was not the source of the city’s problems.
City Administrator Wilson told the council, “The human resources function alone takes up staff time to a point to where we’re constantly running through paying for … drug tests and different things we do on these seasonal employees that are coming and going, and with the new (CalPERS) requirements, the inability to keep people on … knowing we’re going to have to change it every year, it keeps our HR staff pretty busy … filling these temporary spots.”
Councilmember Wilson told the council one of the many possible tactics for bringing more economic growth to the city would be to “fish where the fish are,” to get people here to spend their money.
Councilmember Wilson expanded by saying they could reach out to those in the town of Paradise, who, in attempting to rebuild their manufactured homes, can’t because of updated code requirements. “These people … have just spent all their money to try and (rebuild) their home, and now they can’t occupy them … we could be down there in the town of Paradise as a back up plan for them, handing out our cards and saying ‘come to Susanville, we’re ready to build.”
The strategy would encompass reaching out, not only to those in Paradise, but all of the surrounding areas to get people to move and live in Susanville.
Councilmember Wilson took to the administrator’s ideas saying, “I think that’s what we’re looking for … I’m looking for a roadmap,” to show some of the possible solutions the city could take.
The council gave the city administrator permission to research and seek opportunities to cut costs and to bring the ideas back to the council at a future meeting, sometime in or before the early fall.
June 19 board approval
At the city’s June 19 meeting, discussions were short, a public hearing was held (with no one speaking out), stipulations were declared and the city passed its budget for the coming year.
The council agreed to approve the negative budget with the stipulation there would be a road map provided by the city staff concerning where they could make up the funds.
The date set forth to unveil the road map is Sept. 18.
Mayor Stafford told the council that he didn’t feel comfortable voting to approve the proposed budget.
“I personally think that we need to come up with a plan,” said Stafford, who thought the city should not wait until September.
“I think we need to start freezing positions that come open, and we need to freeze salary and benefits,” he said.