City searching for revenue

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

The city of Clovis has enough money to stay within budget for fiscal year 2005 which begins July 1, even with the $715,000 annual pay increase approved for police early last month. But it can’t fund other employee raises or pay for improvements to infrastructure without cutting expenses or finding new sources of revenue, city finance director Don Clifton said on Tuesday.

The city’s revenue review committee, made up of city officials and local business operators, met Tuesday evening at city hall and listened to city department heads suggest ways to generate more revenue in their departments.

Ideas ranged from increasing fees for adopting pets from the city shelter to charging for false-alarm police calls and offering lifetime memberships to the city zoo for $150.
Officials also explored areas where expenses might be cut, but city department heads said they’re already watching expenses closely.

“We’ve had to work with that budget for so long there is no fat there,” traffic superintendent Kevin Musick said.

Besides, suggestions for expense cuts will not come close to funding needs in the near future, Musick said.

“All of that is just chicken feed compared to what we are going to need to have to deal with not just raises, not only the landfill and wastewater plant, but there’s five signals (lights) that should be built today in the city of Clovis, and we don’t have the money,” he said.

Jim Sitterly, a local businessman and member of the revenue review committee, said he needs additional information before he can understand the city’s budget outlook. He also doubts the city understands its revenue potential.

City Manager Ray Mondragon said the committee was not expected to make any recommendations based on information received at Tuesday’s meeting, but that additional information would be forthcoming in future meetings.

Ultimately the committee is expected to make budget recommendations to the city commission.

Numbers released by the city show gross-receipts taxes are increasing — by about $1 million over the last year — but they may not be enough to offset rising costs.

Clifton said extra costs incurred by the city since the last budget have reduced reserves from more than $800,000 to about $116,000. Those costs include the police raise and increases in property and liability insurance.

Bottom line: Annual costs are up about $1.7 million, Clifton said.

And more expenses are expected soon.

Wastewater superintendent Durwood Billington said the city has invested large sums of money to train employees who are now ready to leave because they feel like they’re underpaid.

“Morale is so low, I’ve got six employees with applications (in hand),” Billington said. “The city spent $100,000 to train these individuals, each. We may be losing a whole lot of trained operators real soon.”

Public Works Director Harry Wang echoed Billington’s comments, and said wastewater management employees have saved the city millions of dollars by preventing catastrophes before they occurred.

“They are way underpaid to do this kind of job, to save millions of dollars for the city,” Wang said.

Billington said the morale problems can be tied to employees feeling they are not appreciated for the difficult and dangerous jobs they do.

Sitterly said city employees need to be realistic when asking for raises.

“There is no magic wand here,” Sitterly said. “It’s going to be a long-term solution.”

Board members are scheduled to reconvene on Tuesday.