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City cut a bit too deep in Finance Department
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Councilman Chris Vierra said a new position of Budget and Accounting Manager with a salary of $120,000 gave him "heartburn" while conceding that the position is much needed.

Vierra made his comments at the Dec. 7 Ceres City Council meeting after the council learned that budget cuts made earlier this year reduced staff to a level that makes it impossible to handle important financial reports.

Sheila Cumberland, who returned to the city from Turlock on Nov. 5 to become Interim Finance Director, said that the new position is needed because the remaining staff is significantly burdened.

"This position does a lot of regulatory reporting," said Cumberland. She added that recent staff cuts at City Hall "left clerical people who couldn't do the work."

In March the city let go of 11 workers to cut $1.13 million from the city budget during the economic recession. Cumberland noted due to the elimination of the assistant Finance Director (Suzanne Dean) and a finance clerk there are a "number of critical tasks that have been impossible to perform." She also noted that "these tasks, contrary to predictions previously made, could not be absorbed by the remaining personnel but must be performed to maintain the city's financial systems."

She predicted that without the additional staff member that the department could falter and be out of compliance with state and federal agencies.

The person to be hired for the position would take care of a myriad of complex accounting tasks within the Finance Department. They would include monitoring the city's investment, prepare state reports, review Landscaping and Lighting District finances, manage outside audits, and oversee bond payments.

Approximately $35,000 of the $120,000 cost would come from precious general fund monies. Approximately 80 percent of the general fund is spent on police and fire services.

Cumberland noted that a permanent Finance Director that that person should be able to do the job but can't do it all because he or she will be overseeing human resources. Earlier this year the city eliminated the position of Human Resources manager filled by Keith Howes. In its restructuring of city government, the council made Deputy Police Chief Mike Borges in charge of Human Resources while Police Chief Art deWerk was made deputy city manager over Finance. Betina McCoy was made interim assisttant finance director.

City officials first proposed the salary of the new position to top out at $8,976 per month but the council trimmed it to top out at $7,550 per month. Mayor Anthony Cannella noted that the proposed salary was at the low end of the range and 25 percent less than what was proposed. But Vierra suggested possibly offering less salary to see what kind of talent could be attracted.

DeWerk said the problem with lowering the salary was an issue of disparity. The new employee would be a mid-level manager who supervises seven to eight employees. The salary would have to equate to level of responsibility, he said.

Councilman Guillermo Ochoa said that "in order to bring in a high-caliber person we need to pay competitively."

Vierra said he would go along with the position when reassured that the city will not need to hire expensive consultants to do finance and budgeting work. DeWerk said the city would be provided clean budget numbers with the new position, not have to hire consultants like it did this year.

Suggesting that taxpayers cannot support business as usual, Vierra said the city has a "much bigger issue" in restructuring. He said reform is needed to better streamline city operations.

City officials believe that state tax grabs expected in 2010 will force discussions with police and fire employee labor groups about concessions in lieu of layoffs.

The city is already advertising to fill the position on the city's website.