Steve Hallam was retained as Ceres’ economic development manager despite efforts of Councilman Channce Condit who urged the City Council not to renew his contract.
On Monday Condit cast the lone vote when the City Council voted 4-1 to keep Hallam’s consultant contract going for another year.
Condit started out asking about the state of redevelopment funds and where they are spent. City Manager Tom Westbrook noted that most of the $3.6 million in the Ceres Redevelopment Agency is committed to paying back bond debts while $250,000 is left, which funds administrative costs. Some of that pays for a portion of the salaries of Westbrook and Finance Director Leticia Dias as well as Hallam’s contract and work done by The Retail Coach, a retail attraction company.
Only about $15,000 will be left over at the end of the year, said Westbrook.
Condit also asked how many part-time consultants the city uses and was told a couple, including Marjorie Blom who is doing some implementation of the General Plan.
Condit asked what the cap was on Hallam’s contract – information that was in the council agenda – and was told $60,000. In the last fiscal year Hallam billed about $51,000.
Condit, who was recently hired for economic development with Opportunity Stanislaus, said
“from personal experience and being in this profession of economic development, you know, I know the potential of getting a qualified candidate, full-time … who can potentially do a full-time position for what Mr. Hallam makes part-time.”
Later in the meeting Westbrook noted that health benefits for a full-time employee costs about $26,000 annually for someone with a family, $17,000 for an employee and spouse or $7,000 for just the employee. He said he ran the numbers and a full-time economic development employee would cost about $180,000 per year.
Condiy suggested the money could also be put to use on a COVID business relief fund, or partner with the Ceres Chamber of Commerce to help with business attraction and retention.
Councilman Mike Kline, who ended up supporting Hallam’s contract extension, said he’d like to see an employee who is physically located in the county. Hallam, who was living in Turlock when he started working for the city in 2015, later moved to a home about two-and-a-hours to the northeast, said Kline.
Vice Mayor Linda Ryno said when she worked for the city of Ceres for over 30 years she worked with “quite a few different economic development people who lived locally, who were full-time, who were receiving benefits full-time and I will continue to say that Mr. Hallam has done a better job as a part-time person living out of the area now than probably the majority of those people. And while he may live out of the area I believe he has enough strong contracts locally and he has the knowledge of this city government that I’m perfectly happy with the job he’s done for us.”
Councilman Bret Durossette said Hallam has done an “outstanding job” at 20 hours per week and said his position is important and paid not out of the General Fund. He said he’s okay with coming back in six months to review the city’s options but he wanted to see Hallam continue another year.
After saying he’s “enjoyed working with Mr. Hallam” and that he has “nothing personal against him,” Condit said “I would encourage my colleagues if you do believe he’s done such a good job that you should consider budgeting a full-time position for Mr. Hallam come September.”
At the July 13 council meeting Ryno reminded Condit that Hallam’s contract “has no impact on General Fund at all,” which is where the budget shortages are expected to occur. During that same meeting Condit said he leaned toward hiring a full-time person for but acknowledged that expected budget shortfalls means “we probably cannot make that judgment call right at that moment.”
Mayor Chris Vierra agreed that Ceres needs a full-time employee to attract new business and held retain existing ones, “however I think Mr. Hallam has done a good job and he is doing it not as an employee.” He suggested the idea of a full-time manager might be out of the realm of possibility.
“My greater concern, in the short term … is the workload that our city manager has to do to fill in the absences of no one in his role (Community Development Director) and all of the other things we’re dealing with,” said Vierra. “And so for that I think Mr. Hallam is a nice bridge.”