The $2.7 million shortfall between revenues and what city of Mesquite departmental directors say are their true expenditures for the fiscal year 2016-17 was trimmed to just over $200,000 after two days of budget hearings on May 11 and 12 by the city council.
After initial budget projections showed the multi-million dollar gap, City Manager Andy Barton instructed his managers to trim an additional five percent from their budgets. The numbers council considered included those cutbacks.
Barton told the council that eight fulltime equivalent positions had been proposed throughout city staff but “none of them made it” into the budget projections. He added that that city continues to operate with 145 full time employees down 55 people from 2008 and 2009.
But all was not smooth sailing through the seven hours of number crunching.
A firestorm erupted the second hour when Fire Chief Kash Christopher presented his budget proposal that included a 20 percent pay raise for his position and a 15 percent increase for Deputy Chief Rick Resnick.
Councilman Kraig Hafen said he objected to the raises being presented during budget hearings rather than presenting them in a regular council meeting like the police department did last year with raises for top management. “I keep hearing that if it’s in the budget and we approve the budget, it’s a done deal,” Hafen said. “I have a little heartburn with that.”
Barton explained that he had mentioned the pay increases to councilmembers in a “hot topic” email and wasn’t trying to bury it. He also said that last year when the council approved raises for police top managers, raises were denied for Christopher and Resnick.
In part, Christopher justified the increases based on pay raises given to union members last year that jumped the salaries of several fire captains higher than his as the chief and Resnick’s as deputy chief. He also said he had been forthright in his personal meetings with individual council members in explaining the raises although he did not have a meeting with Hafen due to scheduling conflicts.
But Hafen took his disagreement further than just the salary increases saying “I have some questions about residency.” He contended that the fire chief spent more time in his North Las Vegas (NLV) residence than his Mesquite home.
Christopher’s employment contract includes a requirement to live within 15 miles of Mesquite, as do other contracts.
“I do live here,” Christopher said. “I’m very active in community functions.” He later told the Mesquite Local News that his wife lives in NLV but that he also rents a home in Mesquite.
Councilman George Rapson said that while he agreed with the raises, “the residency is a contentious issue and there needs to be a full discussion. This doesn’t need to be buried in the budget but discussed out in open. There’s a spirit of residency and then there’s a reality of residency.”
Councilwoman Cindi Delaney entered the fray saying that she didn’t have a problem with the pay raises but the residency issue was a different situation. “If we have questions about a breach of contract, we should address that separately.” She only wanted to deal with the pay raise issue during the budget hearings.
Rapson made a motion to remove $37,248 for the two pay raises from the fire department’s budget. It passed with only Delaney voting no.
The issue was re-addressed on Thursday after Rapson apologized to Christopher, Resnick and Barton for his words the previous day. “Speaking for me, I apologize for the ambush. I committed to these raises in a one-on-one meeting with these guys. Councilwoman Delaney offered a compromise and I should have listened. These two issues, pay raises and residency, are not inextricably intertwined. Andy sent an email to all of us about the raises. We all knew about them. Fundamentally, I was wrong. I don’t have any personal evidence that would make it a conviction in a court of law (referring to the alleged breach of contract).”
He apologized for his assertion that the allegations about the chief’s violation of the residency requirements were possibly true. “I should not have done that.”
During the final minutes of the budget hearings, Hafen said he wasn’t opposed to incremental pay raises for the top two firefighters. “I’ll deal with the residency issue with the chief,” Hafen said. “We’ve never done a 20 percent pay raise at once.”
Barton confirmed that the 25 percent pay raises given to top managers in the police department last year were awarded in step increments at 5 percent a year.
“And those raises were done in a (council) meeting, not a budget hearing,” Hafen said.
Councilman Rich Green explained that he didn’t believe in step increases saying “I’m a merit guy. If we approve the full pay raises, the police chief will still exceed the fire chief by 8 percent. The deputy police chief will still exceed the deputy fire chief by 10 percent.”
Rapson made a motion to grant half of the two pay raises this year and the other half next year. Rapson and Councilman Geno Withelder were the only two voting yes on the motion.
Delaney then made a motion to move forward with the proposed full 20 and 15 percent pay raises.
Green and Withelder voted with her while Hafen and Rapson voted against the measure.
With that, full pay raises for the top two firefighters were back in the fiscal year 2016-17 budget.
In addition to those pay increases, 5 percent pay raises were also granted to the Mesquite Municipal Court Judge, the director of Human Resources, and the city attorney (a contractual requirement). Ten percent pay raises were given to several other non-management, non-union employees.