It’s really not that complicated Manzanita

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Some noteworthy Budget highlights that the City adopted on June 17th and how our City Council has chosen to spend the monthly fees that you pay in your water bill to operate the water system:
1. The City apparently is not collecting enough Short Term Rental income for the City Hall Short Term Rental Program Manager position so it’s necessary to take Water Operating Fund revenue to help fund that position. Rather than simply explain how this position is vital to the operation of the water utility, the answer was “you really have to understand the complexity of that model to appreciate that allocation”.
2. The Assistant City Recorder/Court Clerk position will need Water Fund revenue for her position to assist the Public Works Director in the construction of the Dorcus Lane water line replacement project this fall. When asked what role this individual will have in this construction project, the City could not provide an answer.
3. The City Manager’s own estimate of 10-15% of her time in management duties of the water utility claims that the model justifies an indirect overhead charge in this Budget of $75,729 against the Water Operating Fund for this limited management role. To provide some context, the Public Work’s Director position which spends 90% of his time managing the water utility, charges the Water Operating Fund approximately $88,000 for his direct management role.
4. Other non salary cost recovery expenses included in the $75,729 charge on the Water Operating Fund for the City Manager’s management activities include “ a desk, computer, paper and so on”. The City can’t provide a cost breakdown among other Funds that use and benefit from this referenced equipment and supplies. The bigger concern is why is the Water Operating Fund apparently is bearing the total cost for supplying equipment and office materials for the City Manager’s office and how many desks and computers does a City Manager need to purchase each year with these funds?
The consultant who produced the indirect overhead charge model admitted that he has no idea what any staff member at City Hall does regarding their actual interaction with water utility operations. So, when the City, who should know what these City Hall staff are doing was asked to provide some common sense explanations to justify these charges, the answer was …. it’s too complex to answer those questions without using the model so citizens should go and read the report if you want those answers.
How did we arrive at this situation where it’s not possible to answer a direct question on any of this? In 2019 citizens shared with this Council that it was not possible that the City could justify paying half of the salaries of the City Manager and Assistant City Manager with funds from the Water Operating Fund. The Mayor’s response was that a 50% Water Operating Fund contribution for the City Manager salary was necessary starting in 2008 during construction of the Water Treatment Plant. The City Manager was heavily involved in the management of the construction of that project and the increase to 50% rather than the historic 25% contribution of his salary from the Water Operating Fund was therefore justified due to this increased work load.
For almost a decade after the completion of the Water Treatment Plant project, long standing members of this Council somehow just forgot to return the City Manager’s salary back to the historic level of the Water Operating Fund’s contribution of 25%.
This funding strategy for City Hall salaries was proving so successful that when this Council decided to hire an Assistant City Manager in 2017, 50% of that salary was also taken from the Water Operating Fund. The few citizens that may have been attending Budget meetings during these years didn’t know what questions to ask and that allowed this Council to get very comfortable in this new creative funding strategy.
From the very moment in 2019 when this was first brought to the Council’s attention, they knew that they had a problem. This Council could have chosen to simply return to a level of 25% of the City Manager’s salary and a lesser but reasonable percentage of the Assistant City Manager’s salary from the Water Operating Fund and this issue would have vanished. But rather than adopt a simple solution to a very specific issue, this Council spends $30,000 for a study of non issues that have no bearing on the Budget transfers from the Water Operating Fund, a consultant who says that he doesn’t know what these positions actually do and a Council when asked for explanations admits that its too complex to explain to you.
Current Council members who may be running for reelection will need to explain their role in this matter as well as their record on a host of other decisions over the years relating to the fiscal and livability issues that have finally come to a head. Let’s hope that we get better answers than it’s just too complex to explain.