Though the Mount Shasta City budget was stripped down to the barest of bones at Monday’s council meeting, the Community Services Liaison officer narrowly spared elimination by a 3-2 vote.
In addition to completely eliminating all “extras” which had been added to the budget in June, the council unanimously approved a resolution that implemented a $150 per month, per employee decrease in the city’s contribution to the police unit’s cafeteria plan, froze officer’s salaries until June 30, 2010 and completely abolished the vehicle take home policy.
City manager Kevin Plett explained that despite months of negotiations,  the city and the police unit operating engineers union could not come to an agreement and were at an impasse. With impasse declared, Plett said the city had provided its last, best and final offer, which was rejected.
“In order to move ahead, it is prudent that the council make a resolution,” Plett said.
During public comment, union negotiator Art Froeling cited the vehicle policy as “the only thing that’s tripping us up.”
He said the officers understand budgetary issues and the cost of the vehicle policy, and that they’re willing to pay more than other units to keep the cars.
“[The take home policy] is a long standing practice... I don’t think you should wave it away with a resolution,” Froeling said. “With no contract, there is no meeting of the minds... you’re basically dictating what is going to happen, and that doesn’t create a happy workforce.”
Officer Frank Goulart stated that the cars are not just a convenience for the officers, but a matter of public safety. He cited several reasons why the policy should stay in place, including difficulty for officers to get to work in their personal cars in snow or emergency situations and the availability of officers when someone must be transported to jail.
“We are willing to share the costs,” Goulart said. “You will not get the same use out of the cars when the officers have to use their own vehicle.”
Officer Chris Stock emphasized how important the cars are to officers.
“You’re not just dealing with police, you’re dealing with the entire city of Mount Shasta. You’re dealing with how fast people get to your house in an emergency... please take into consideration that you may need all of us at once, and it may take and extended amount of time to get there.”
Chief Parish Cross added that taking away vehicles may mean that some criminals won’t go to jail if there is no officer available for backup, as only one officer is on duty in the city at all times. He said that Lieutenant Gabriela Tazzari and himself would be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for six months out of the year, and that was a heavy burden for two people. “If we’re going down, I might as well have gone down swingin,’” Cross said.
Council member Russ Porterfield said although he appreciated the offer to continue negotiations, it was already too late.
Council member Ned Boss added that he wasn’t happy about the resolution, but said the city could no longer afford the policy.
After a motion by councilor Sandra Spelliscy and a second by councilor Mike Murray, the resolution was quickly and unanimously adopted.
With the last of the employee negotiations complete, Plett explained the city’s budget.
The budget adopted on June 22 called for a $140,000 reduction in employee salaries and benefits, Plett said. At that time, furloughs had been the plan with which to execute such a reduction.
However, negotiations with bargaining unions resulted in a total savings of $47,550, which left a budget gap of $92,141. To help close the gap, elimination of the Community Services Liaison officer was proposed by city staff. This would result in a savings of $50,000 for the budget year, which would still need to be supplemented by cuts to line items.
“This is a difficult decision... but considering the severity of where we’re sitting right now, we have to fill the gap. We’ve trimmed our budget all the way around, and we’re still $92,000 short,” Plett said.
During public comment, Community Services Liaison officer Gordon Howard stood to address council. “I encourage you to protect your investment, and protect your city,” he said.
He explained that he carries out many duties, including animal control, an area where he has many years of experience. He also enforces codes and statutes on a daily basis and operates the city’s Live Scan fingerprinting system, which brings in revenue.
Howard’s statement was met with a round of applause, and followed by emphatic statements from a host of supportive community members, many who cited concerns with the elimination of Howard’s animal control services.
Officer Goulart said Howard does an excellent job, and is well qualified for his position. “He goes all day – he doesn’t stop. Eliminating him would be making a big mistake. It will really tax the police department. We need this position. We need Gordon.”
Following public comment, Spelliscy said she wouldn’t support a resolution to lay off an employee. She said her goal in the budgeting process was to balance resources while avoiding layoffs. She said she’s surprised and disappointed that unions would choose layoffs over the furloughs which had been proposed initially.
Boss said he ran for his position on a platform of no layoffs. He said he’d rather freeze items in the budget until they can be afforded with revenue, at least until the mid-year budget review in January, including $10,000 for grant writing services, $20,000 for Roseburg property development, $20,000 for sidewalk repair, $3,000 left over from the city hall roof repair, $22,500 for equipment replacement and $10,000 for an actuarial study. He also proposed using the $8,024 budget surplus.
“I remember when there was [no animal control officer],” Boss said. “The police department couldn’t handle it.”
Porterfield said the city had been “backed into a corner.” He said freezing budget items wouldn’t solve the long term problem, and that at some point, they would have to face the facts.
Mayor Tim Stearns stated that there is no “fluff” in any of the city’s positions, but it’s the council’s responsibility to balance the budget. “It’s not our job to make decisions based on people we like. It’s our job to make fiscal decisions.” He said he’d support the balancing of the budget with the elimination of one position.
Murray then made a motion to eliminate all line items to keep the Community Services Liaison position.
Boss quickly seconded the motion.
Spelliscy said the decision would be “terribly poor budgeting.” She said she considers sidewalks and maintenance a mandatory responsibility, and sees the city falling further and further behind with the removal of the proposed items.
“We now have a budget that does nothing but pay for employees and their benefits,” she said, going on to describe some other councillors as “disingenuous” in initially pushing for furloughs and now “changing their stripes.”
Murray then amended his motion to add that sidewalk repair would be payed with  the city’s gas tax funds.
After reviewing the motion,  which would constitute a savings of $93,524, Murray, Boss and Porterfield responded with ayes, while Stearns and Spelliscy said no.
“And the ayes have it,” Stearns said amid raucous cheers from the audience.
All changes made at Monday’s meeting were implemented immediately, except the vehicle take home policy, which will take some time to organize. Chief Cross will make a report to council at their next meeting on Sept. 7 to discuss the department’s implementation progress.
In other business, the council awarded the city hall roof replacement to Red Sky Roofing in an amount not to exceed $8,342, approved a draft of the city’s housing element for submittal to the Department of Housing and Community Development and approved an application for a $30,000 CDBG grant.
The council also heard from Stuart Miner and Frank DeMarco regarding a possible plan to develop the Roseburg property, which was well received. However, following removal of the $20,000 put aside for Roseburg projects, another source of funding would have to be found to fund such a plan.