Atwater City Council declines monthly pay, allowances amid fiscal crisis

10/11/2012 12:40 PM

10/14/2012 11:50 PM

In the midst of a budget crisis, all members of the Atwater City Council are declining to take monthly pay and allowances.

Some classify the move as a step in the right direction, but concede that it won't save the city from its budget crisis.

The total cost for the allowances and pay was more than $130,000 a year for the five elected leaders, but that number has been whittled down since Councilman Craig Mooneyham won his seat in Nov. 2010.

Mooneyham declined all pay and allowances and tried to initiate an action to eliminate all council pay, but his effort was met with silence and his motion to get rid of the payouts died for lack of a second.

Though Mooneyham was legally obligated for a short period of time to take the city-paid insurance for child support reasons, insurance coverage and in-lieu payments were eventually done away with by the council.

Then in September, Mayor Joan Faul announced that she would stop taking her pay and allowances, which included $451 in base salary, $750 in car allowance and up to $100 in cell phone reimbursement. Council members receive a base salary of $350, a car allowance of $700, and $100 for cell phone reimbursement.

Councilman Gary Frago said he and the other two council members made the recent decision to turn away pay and allowances to show solidarity with employees – some of whom face layoffs while others are being asked to take large pay cuts.

"When we decided to lay off (employees), we decided it's time to do it," he said Thursday.

Jim Price, an Atwater resident and vice president of operations for Gemini Flight Support, has been speaking out against the council’s pay and benefits for years.

Though the savings to the general fund won't correct the budget by itself, Price said he was glad to hear the perks are finally being refused by all council members.

"I'm not so naive as to believe that the city council's pay and everything is going to save the city – it won't," he said. "But it's a matter of demonstrating leadership to show they understand. Everybody has to do their part."

With the exception of Mooneyham, Price said it's "too little, too late" for the council to show leadership and stop taking the perks, which the council started putting into place around 2000.

Price said an appropriate time for the council members to stop taking pay and benefits is when they started dipping into reserves to help patch the budget.

The council members' decision comes as officials are trying to reverse a financial catastrophe that's hit their city.

A general fund deficit of more than $3 million joined with large deficits in the water and sanitation funds have led to drastic reductions in Atwater, including 38 possible layoffs and significant cuts to employee pay.

Last week, the council declared a common-law fiscal emergency to give the city more capacity to negotiate with contracted employees.

A financial plan on how to get Atwater out of the fiscal disaster it’s in is expected during an Oct. 22 meeting.

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

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