Atwater residents voice ire to council over budget woes

Mayor offers to forgo pay; residents demand council do the same

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 11, 2012 

— Residents were vocal during Monday's City Council meeting, the first public gathering of the council since city management conceded during a closed-door session last week that drastic budget cuts are on the horizon.

Five people addressed the council Monday, which has made it clear that the city is taking steps in an attempt to right its fiscal ship. The speakers chided the council over the looming financial mess, demanding that all the members forgo their pay and allowances.

After adjourning, the council resumed a closed-session meeting that included discussions of labor negotiations and a performance evaluation of City Manager Kathy Kivley, who was put on paid administrative leave last month.

The closed-session agenda item showed that the performance evaluation was followed by a public employee dismissal, but no report from that session was made by the Sun-Star's deadline.

City officials have indicated that the staff hasn't been able to thoroughly account for city funds. There are questions about how much money the city has, where it is and what it can be used for.

The city is projecting a $3.7 million negative general-fund balance for this fiscal year.

During Thursday's closed-door meeting between city administration and employees, it became clear that severe changes -- including layoffs, pay cuts and reductions in benefits -- are being considered.

Bankruptcy can't be ruled out, as city leaders say they're keeping all their options open.

The situation has riled residents, including some who've warned the council during past meetings about the looming financial crisis.

One of those residents is Jim Price, vice president of operations for Gemini Flight Support.

During Monday's meeting, he said that with the exception of Councilman Craig Mooneyham, the City Council has been a "dismal failure."

"When it comes to describing this council, we're the punchline of the entire Valley," Price said.

Acknowledging that tough decisions are coming, Price encouraged council members to get rid of their pay and allowances, which cost the city about $39,000 a year.

"This City Council has let this city down," Price shouted. "It's time to come to the decisions that need to be done to make this city whole again, starting with your pay and allowances."

Before Price's comments, Mayor Joan Faul announced that she, as Mooneyham has done, will forgo her pay and allowances. The move brought rousing cheers from the audience.

Despite Faul's statement, Price demanded that the remaining council members follow suit.

"This City Council needs to take up an emergency item tonight on this agenda to wipe out, zero out, the entire pay and allowances for this City Council to show what you have shown tonight, Madam Mayor -- leadership," Price said.

Though no such action was taken, other speakers echoed similar feelings, thanking Faul for dropping her pay and allowances.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

Merced Sun-Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service