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Council meets in-person over budget
• Three new firefighters, five new police officer positions funded
Council in Ceres
Spaced farther apart, the Ceres City Council met in-person for the first time in over six months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vice Mayor Linda Ryno and Councilman Channce Condit wore masks.

The city’s interim budget approved in June was tweaked on Monday with the addition of several positions which the Ceres City Council deemed necessary.

It was the first time in months since the COVID-19 pandemic started that the council met in person, spaced six feet apart. The audience was limited to Zoom access however.

The council revisited the 2020-21 fiscal year budget after months of waiting to see how revenues would shake out before proceeding with a number of positions that are now vacant or frozen, including three frozen firefighters and five police officer positions.

The city started out the new budget year on July 1 with General Fund reserves of $5.39 million. Revenues are projected to come in at $23.6 million with projected expenditures of $23 million. About 80 percent of that goes toward police and fire, code enforcement and animal control.

The city is expected to close out the fiscal year cycle on June 30, 2021 with a general fund reserve of $5.86 million, or 25.4 percent of the general fund. The council has a practice of keeping a reserve of at least 18 percent.

City Manager Tom Westbrook said while the city expects to receive less revenue, expenditures are expected to rise due to salary increases, new positions and health insurance and retirement costs.

The city could realize a drop in sales tax revenue because of many retailers closing during the coronavirus pandemic. But the city is receiving $2.2 million in one-time CARES Act funding related to COVID-19 related expenses.

In addition to the drop in sales tax revenue, the city will be receiving less money from the developer agreements crafted to allow cannabis manufacturing and sales in Ceres. In the 2019-20 fiscal year cycle, the city received $2.09 million through its three cannabis developer agreements. That amount is expected to drop to $1.56 million.

Vice Mayor Linda Ryno was the lone vote against revising the budget, insisting that the city has not learned to live within its means.

The council went through a list of 20 vacant or frozen positions and decided to hire:

• Three firefighters;

• Five police officers, with expectations that it can take up to a year to recruit and fill them;

• One water resource analyst and two wastewater operators, all paid by enterprise account funds;

• One fleet mechanic;

• IT analyst to replace a retiree;

• Human Resources director;

• Administrative secretary to be split between the finance and city clerk’s office;

• One new police dispatcher;

• An associate engineer and engineer technician

The council decided against the filling of one vacant custodian positions for now. The council also decided against hiring a Human Resources analyst. It also froze the code enforcement secretary. The council will revisit the hiring of a parks maintenance worker at mid-budget year to help maintain the new parks that will be coming on line.

Also kept frozen are positions of director of Community Development, which is being done by Westbrook, and the deputy finance director position. The recreation supervisor position was eliminated with the expectation that it will be reformatted.

For a second time, Councilman Channce Condit unsuccessfully pushed for the council to give up health insurance benefits to pay down on the operational deficit of the Community Center or toward other expenses. He said he didn’t run for office to receive free healthcare.

Mayor Chris Vierra said he is walking off the council at year’s end and wants the next council to decide on the matter. He said it’s possible some of the candidates are running for office who may need the compensation.

Durossette said health insurance is a perk for the council.

“It is a hefty price-tag,” said Condit, “and that’s why I’m making the motion. I just believe that the money can best be used elsewhere because at the end of the day this is about public service and that’s why we’re all doing this.”

Councilman Mike Kline said he was insulted by Condit’s comments, saying when he ran for office he didn’t know there was a stipend paid and health insurance offered by the city. He noted that county supervisors get paid a significant salary and perks while most work other regular jobs.

“I probably put in 40 to 50 hours a month, if not more being a part of this board, said Kline. “Did I run to get compensated for it? No I don’t. It’s a nice little perk. I think I put my time in. I think I serve this city well … so to come up here and say we don’t deserve it or we need to take it away, I think that it’s a slap in the face to us councilmembers.”

Condit apologized if he offended but said it was about prioritizing the use of city money.

Mayor Vierra suggested that Condit’s position may put him into a “compromising position” if someone asks him to give up his salary if he is elected to the Board of Supervisors in November.

Condit’s motion died for a lack of a second.