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City salary levels to be discussed Wednesday

A consultant's report that says, in short, that the City of Madera pays higher management salaries overall than the market median will be one of the topics of a special report at the Wednesday City Council meeting by government advisor Ron Manfredi, who was hired by the council to examine city employee compensation, among other financial considerations.

That meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 205 W. 4th St.

The meeting also will examine other financial findings.

Counting on future economic growth and fee increases, the City Council unanimously passed the 2018-2019 budget with a $1.3 million deficit, based on the recommendations of current City Administrator Steve Frazier, according to a presentation before the council, on the off-calendar Thursday, July 5, City Council meeting.

Frazier, who was chief of The Madera Police Department for the last five years, was appointed to the interim city administrator position over the objection of some council members and other residents after the abrupt retirement of longtime City Administrator David Tooley in December, when annual salaries and benefits for some senior city department heads of between $200,000 and $310,000, some of the highest in the Central Valley, were brought to light. Frazier, who retired as police chief, agreed to fill the position of city administrator until a permanent administrator could be recruited and hired.

The search for a new city administrator remains under way.

Frazier said he and the finance department team had reduced the deficit projections from $1.5 million to $1.3 million through a judicious budget review, but he could not recommend further reduction of services to residents when the financial deficit situation would likely work itself out through pending development projects and a growing business climate and economy.

The city had recently trimmed some spending and frozen 11 employee positions that had become vacant in the last year, which had resulted in significant savings, Frazier said, but in his opinion the action may not have been necessary and had reduced good service delivery to residents.

“We are still at $1.3 million dollars (of deficit.) In the last five years we’ve had deficit (projections) and we’ve managed to erase that. When the opportunity presented itself, I told myself I was not going to say the sky is falling ... We have an innate ability to reduce deficits. And we’ve ended (previous) years with a $1.3 million surplus. A very significant turn-around. For the life of me ... there really isn’t an explanation how we do that. Things just seem to work out ...” Frazier said. “So I am reluctant to offer to council we (continue to) freeze (vacant) positions.” Frazier said.

Currently there are three vacant police officer positions, one position in engineering, one in code enforcement and two in public works not being filled, he said.

“My recommendation to you is that you accept the $1.3 million deficit and ride it out. We have reserves. If we realize that deficit, then we know where we are at. Clearly we have a revenue-expenditure disparity. That’s very evident. But I am reluctant to say make the drastic cuts now ...” Frazier said.

Raising development impact fees, and other fees such as for city business licenses will also be huge according to Frazier.

“I’ve challenged employees to come up with (new) revenue-raising plans (for services provided to residents). Very, very good options, we’ll be moving forward on the fees we (collect). Like business licensing fees ... We need to explore (all) revenue raising options ... And see where things end up,” Fraizer said.

Some residents claim every possible and typical cost usually borne by cities — like street tree maintenance or removal and sidewalk maintenance — have been shifted to the backs of Madera residents and property owners, a significant benefit to the general fund.

Resident and developer Mike Pistoresi, who studies city finances, said the city’s focus appears to now be only on raising fees and all revenues possible. He said the city has conveniently overlooked what he said is the more obvious and responsible method of helping the budget by lowering the senior staff salaries that have been raised between 20 and 49 percent over the last five or six years. Pistoresi first brought city salary increases to light in December of 2017 after researching them on Transparent California’s salary database website.

“There is absolutely no excuse for the Council to adopt a deficit budget, when by trimming management positions and salaries they could have very easily achieved a balanced budget.” Pistoresi said. “Transferring money from the (reserve) or rainy day fund to the general fund does not achieve a balanced budget. It is like digging into your savings account to pay your monthly bills when you do not have enough income. It only works until your savings runs out,” he said.

The city has also doubled it’s water rates and doubled it’s water fund revenue from approximately $5 million to $10 million, according to Pistoresi, and outside consultants hired by Pistoresi allegedly found the city collected close to a million dollars for water “conservation rebate” programs but had paid out only approximately $24,000 for that purpose.

Council Members CeCe Gallegos and Derek Robinson also disagreed with the revenue-raising-only plan, and said they thought city sacrifices were needed now to ensure future balanced budgets. “It’s like at home, when you have financial difficulties you do a lot of cutting. You stop going to movies, dinners, you cook at home. You sacrifice,” Robinson said.

Critics also claim no five-year city budget or revenue projection was developed or looked at during the budget process, and all possible reductions and savings are needed right now, to decrease the more drastic cuts and actions that will be required in future years.

Complete copies of the documents being Wednesday night may be found on the City Council Meetings and Agendas section of the City Web Site for Aug. 1. (Go to City of Madera, then to Departments, then select View Agenda and View Report.

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