This year’s budget hearings were shorter than normal, since much of the hard work was finished before they even began.
Back in January and February, at the workshops held at Fire Station 3 for the City Council and City Staff, department heads were asked to project scenarios of what operations would look like if they were to cut costs by 5, 10 or 20%.
Thanks to the vacation of several positions that were molded into existing staff’s positions, such as Deputy City Attorney, the budgets seemed to roll into place, and the departments skated with just shaving 5% off of their FY2014-2015 budgets.
The results will leave the City of Mesquite a budget gap of just $518,822 instead of last year’s gap of $748,307. City Manager Andy Barton stated during the introduction to the budget on Wednesday, May 13 that within one to two years the City should be able to break even and start to rebuild into surplus numbers again.
Presentations were given from each major department throughout the initial two days of budget hearings with some discussion from staff and members of the community. There were relatively few changes made.
But the biggest change that was made was a suggestion by Councilman Kraig Hafen that Mesquite Regional Business, Inc. (MRBI) have a reduction in funding from the City by $50,000 in the upcoming year due to the departure of Gaye Stockman, who left at the end of April for personal reasons. “I’m simply proposing that we reduce the allocation by the amount that was paid to Stockman. They’re not going to hire anybody. This is simply adjusting for the loss of a highly qualified person,” said Councilman George Rapson.
Rapson also proposed that the City of Mesquite remove their membership from the Nevada League of Cities (NLC), which would save just over $14,000, including travel costs.
Both motions passed with a vote of 3-2, Councilmen Rapson, Hafen and Rich Green voting for it while Councilwoman Cindi Delaney and Councilman Geno Withelder voted against both.
By the final meeting on Tuesday, May 19, the NLC had offered to allow the City of Mesquite to remain a member, paying only $1 for this year’s membership.
At the May 19 meeting, the council also agreed to conduct a labor study, which had been done by MRBI in the past, within the next year, absorbing those costs so that MRBI wouldn’t have to. “It’s something that is needed,” said Councilwoman Delaney. “It gives us the areas that we need to improve that we can work on with CSN (College of Southern Nevada) and some other areas that might bring some information to light that would be useful.”
Councilmen Green and Hafen also agreed with the adjusted NLC and Labor Study proposals. A motion was made by Rapson, seconded by Hafen and passed unanimously.
Other notable changes throughout the meetings were the ongoing concerns of paying for travel for Council members and City Staff to events and meetings out of town. They agreed that if it is absolutely necessary to send a staff or Council Member because of certification or something similar, that the City would pay for the costs involved.
However, for other things that were not vital to the function of the staff or Council member would need to be paid by the attending person.
The council also discussed lowering the per diem reimbursement for those trips from $66 per day for food to $48, which would save an additional 27% in projected costs. Financial Director Dave Empey noted that in certain cases, those rates could be adjusted on a case by case basis, depending on the venue for the attendee.
Talks were also favorable in reevaluating the Building Permit fees, which are still at the levels that they were in 1997 at just $59.30 per square foot for residential permits. Staff discussed the possibilities of raising those to $80 per square foot, which would still remain affordable while bringing the rates closer to what they should be in today’s economy.
During the City Manager’s portion of the budget, Barton advised that the council consider giving ‘M Class Employees’ a 5% pay raise. This would affect the employees who have not seen a raise since 2008 or 2009 and are still with the City. Doing so would cost the city an additional $21,500 per year in wages and $6,000 in PERS benefits. The changes were made to the budget accordingly by the meeting on May 19. Future raises will be given on a merit-based system.
At the end of the very short final budget meeting on May 19 (13 minutes) the Council voted unanimously to approve the proposed budget including the changes that had been requested. Councilman Hafen also directed staff to resolve the funds remaining in the Habitat Fund, which the Department of Fish and Wildlife had pulled the plug on. Those funds will be put back towards costs directly related to similar items in the City’s expenses.