Council passes FY13-14 budget

City manager given authority to work out final details

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Months of debate over prioritizing allocations for shrinking revenue streams appear to have come to a close after the Ridgecrest City Council voted last week to approve staff recommendations for the FY 14 budget.

The primary topic of discussion was identifying cuts in the Parks and Recreation Department, which had previously taken a smaller proportional reduction from general fund support than departments such as streets and police. The council considered three main options making Park and Rec cuts equitable with other city services: closing Pinney Pool; eliminating two maintenance workers; or reducing the director position to a lower-grade recreation manager.

Although closing the pool was the option most strongly recommended by Parks and Recreation Director Jim Ponek, several councilmembers, including Vice Mayor Jason Patin, said that closing the only public pool in the community would not even be considered.

Councilwoman Lori Acton, with support from Councilman James Sanders, pointed out that downgrading the director — which costs the city $180,000 between salary and benefits — to a recreation program manager that would cost only $80,000 annually, the city could preserve the two maintenance workers and keep the pool open.

Under that restructuring, the revenue-generating programs would be allowed to continue under the management of a recreation coordinator, the facilities and fields maintenance staff would be shifted to public works supervision instead of seeing a reduction and the pool would remain open.

Mayor Dan Clark said he did not like any of the options and moved that the city not consider any of the reductions. City Manager Dennis Speer noted that such an action would eliminate the $100,000 reserve set aside in the current proposal.

“Mr. Mayor, I disagree,” said Patin. “When we started this process and talked about where these cuts would come from, we decided to make cuts proportionate to the size of the departments. That’s where we are right now.”

He said that Clark’s recommendation to limit the parks reduction to 10 percent while all others were reduced by 20 percent, would mean that the city was not upholding its pledge to the public to use Measure L to protect street and police expenditures.

“That is not sitting well with me at all.”

In the end, Patin made a motion to reduce the parks department maintenance staff by two — with one employee being shifted to streets and one vacant position being eliminated. The details of the parks reductions were to be settled by Speer, but Patin included a caveat in his motion that the pool must remain open.

Clark objected to the council limiting Speer’s flexibility by including the pool caveat.

“We’re passing a budget, we’re not giving direction to staff right now,” said Holloway, who added that he was 100-percent confident in Speer’s ability to craft an executable budget.

“I have watched this individual as a department head do more with less than any other department head we’ve ever had for the last eight years. He’s never had the ability to impose his will on other department heads until now. We hired Mr. Speer for a reason. He’s given us his recommendation of what he wants to do with this budget. I’m comfortable with the staff recommendation.”

The council unanimously approved the plan to allow Speer flexibility to reduce Park and Rec expenditures, although Clark added that “I am not a happy camper, but it is what it is.”

See also related story, this edition.

Story First Published: 2013-06-26