Measure U Oversight Committee hits city staff with avalanche of questions

Committee members have no veto power; they can only comment

Photo by Melissa Diaz Hernandez/The Valley Chronicle
Hemet City Clerk Sarah McComas swears in Measure U Oversight Committee members April 17. From left to right: Eric Gosch (sphere of influence), Richard Biber (Hemet resident), Robin Rickert (Hemet resident), Suzzanne Kozma (sphere of influence), Rob Davis (sphere of influence), Jeff Retmier (Hemet resident) and Marie McDonald (Hemet resident).

■ By Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Reporter

Once the questions by Measure U oversight committee members started, they didn’t stop but kept on rolling. The first meeting of the oversight committee was held in the Hemet city council chamber with all seven oversight members present.
Retired Hemet firefighter Jeff Retmier was elected as the committee’s chairperson with Marie McDonald, president of the Democrats of Hemet-San Jacinto, elected as the committee’s vice chairperson. Both were unanimously elected to their position by the oversight committee.
Shortly after the oversight committee was sworn into office April 17, questions regarding department overtime, legal fees, the committee’s role and how received Measure U funds would be deciphered from the current police and fire department budgets pushed the meeting past the three-hour mark.
Hemet City Attorney Eric Vail explained the committee’s responsibilities and limitations, such as the committee can review proposed and actual expenditures, but does not have approval or veto power – the committee can only comment. Per Hemet Resolution 4731 “the City Council shall, as part of the City’s normal budget process, annually prepare and adopt an expenditure plan for enhancing public safety service within the City, including application of the Tax proceeds. The expenditure plan shall be submitted to the citizens’ oversight committee required by Measure U for their review and comment prior to the City Council’s consideration and adoption of the expenditure plan.”
Both Fire Chief Scott Brown and Police Chief Dave Brown presented their immediate action plans and outlined their budget for fiscal year 2017/18, including pointing out that HFD Engine 4 has medics but not medic equipment.
Committee members Rob Davis, Eric Gosch and Marie McDonald questioned the budget and the separation of funds to ensure that Measure U funds only go to public safety. The committee wanted to stay ahead of the budget process to ensure there was sufficient time to review the budget before it went to the City Council for adoption. However, it doesn’t seem that the strategy is possible.
Administrative Services Consultant Joy Canfield clarified that “it will be September before we know what we received in fiscal year 2016/17 from the tax. It will not be until December before we know the ‘clean-up’ payment for the first fiscal quarter – July, August and September.”
Gosch wanted reassurance that this tax would not be used to bail the city out of its current financial troubles. Canfield stated that there will be separate account numbers, and explained that in essence, general fund items will be in one pot and Measure U funds will be in another pot. Four departments (Police Department, Police Department Measure U, Fire Department and Fire Department Measure U) were created in the accounting system to track the details.
The resolution states “that the City will not, in any fiscal year, reduce the percentage of general fund revenues budgeted and appropriated for Hemet police and fire services below 72 percent of the total general fund expenditure budget for the given fiscal year.”
Several questions were raised regarding the portion of the resolution that states how funds can be spent within public safety. Resolution 4731 states “The expenditure plan shall be consistent with the requirements of this Resolution, including but not limited to the following: a. Tax proceeds shall be used exclusively to pay for costs associated with the citizens’ oversight committee, the independent audit, and funding police protection and crime suppression services, fire protection and suppression services, and 911/paramedic services within the City.

What piece of the action financially do we have on ‘the risk management and legal services in defense of claims and legal actions against the City and public safety personnel?”

– Richard Biber,
Measure U Oversight Committee member

 

“The proceeds of the Tax may be expended on any and all regular and special expenses incurred for the operation and the provision of public safety services within the City and in response to mutual and automatic aid agreements, including, but not limited to: wages, benefits, and deferred compensation for police and fire personnel and the pro rata shares of such costs for other City personnel that support the police and fire service within the City; the purchase, operation and maintenance of vehicles and equipment including repairs, fuel and maintenance; the operation, maintenance, repair and retrofitting of existing property, buildings, improvements and other facilities necessary for police or fire purposes; risk management and legal services in defense of claims and legal actions against the City and public safety personnel, training, licensing and certification of police and fire personnel; and for utilizing contractors, subcontractors, consultants, and professional services directly related to enhancing police and fire services.”
Richard Biber questioned “what piece of the action financially do we have on ‘the risk management and legal services in defense of claims and legal actions against the City and public safety personnel?’”
Police Chief Brown responded. “I think the intent of that was to make it broad enough to include some provision in the budget for legal services and/or risk management.” He goes on to explain that “for example, we are going to be doing a very aggressive campaign against nuisance crime, and in doing so, we might get sued.”
Police Chief Brown turned the question over to Vail for clarification. Biber asked, before Vail responded, about the city’s overall liability insurance contract.
Vail replied to Biber stating that “right now, no money is being allocated to pay for claims or defense costs out of Measure U funds. It is a potential – a possibility. The city gets sued routinely for the normal operations of our police department – well, because – people don’t like getting arrested, sometimes people get shot and sometimes our dogs have to bite people.”
He goes on to state that “those are the types of things that could be funded out of Measure U funds if they exceeded the kind of general funding that is currently being paid. If there are special programs, for instance, the police department just declared a ‘War on Crime,’ then there’s going to be a lot of extra activities going on. There could be a spike in claims against the city or the need for special enforcement.”
Vail explained that the city has a liability insurance policy with a self-insured retention of $250,000. This means that the city has to pay the first $250,000 before the insurance policy pays. Anything over $250,000, the policy pays.
Biber’s reasoning for the question was to determine, if it were a significant amount, how it would affect the city’s ability to fulfill the 1.2 full time police officers per 1,000 city of Hemet residents as well as the baseline for the fire portion of Measure U.
The committee must take many items into consideration upon reviewing the budget and audit. And again, the committee may only make comments…they can’t veto spending. Those comments are then sent for City Council’s consideration prior to adopting the budget. Ultimately, the decision is up to the City Council as to how the funds are used.

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