Can Hemet balance the budget without Measure U funds?

Council wrestles with proposal shining light into a dark tunnel

■ By Chris Smith / Advisory Editor

The City of Hemet has a balanced budget!
Well, more precisely, it could have a balanced budget for the first time in years. That is, if – and it’s a big “if” – city council can eat the frog when it comes to using Measure U funds to help close the existing $3.4 million gap between next year’s anticipated revenues and expenses. At this point, however, part of the council is balking at the prospect of that unpleasant task.
At last Tuesday night’s council meeting the council heard, once again, from Measure U Oversight Committee members who aren’t comfortable seeing the city transfer funds into the general fund from the Measure U account. But wait…the money already is in the general fund because Measure U was a general use tax not specified for police and fire the way its failed predecessor, Measure M, was written.

A conundrum
Anyway, it’s a conundrum because Measure U has raised more money than the $10 million that was estimated – more than $1.5 million per year above the original estimates. If the city just uses that “extra” money to pay itself back for the raises it felt obliged to give to police and fire to bring their salaries and benefits up to competing communities, all will be good. And, after all, the overage is still going to police and fire as was the original intent.
City Attorney Eric Vail has advised the council that the proposal to use part of the Measure U money to cover raises for public safety workers is, in fact, consistent with the wording and intent of the city’s resolution promising to use Measure U money only for police and fire. Several council members agreed that there really should not be a problem with paying back the general fund from Measure U monies in order to cover previously approved police and fire raises.

Unhappy council members
Council members Bonnie Wright and Linda Krupa, however, are not happy with the idea. They want to see the city manager go through the city budget line by line looking for places to cut. This is despite the plan by City Manager Allen Parker to close the budget gap by implementing a hiring freeze and trimming another $800,000 through “fund balances.” (It wasn’t entirely clear what “fund balances” meant, but we have to assume that it that means taking money from other unspent accounts or possibly even reserves.)
Both Wright and Krupa dressed down Parker for not having done a more detailed analysis of each department’s budget over the past few months when there was more time. Despite Parker pointing out that many departments are understaffed, to the point of being unable to keep up with demand or train younger personnel for impending retirements, the two council members believe there has to be fat to trim somewhere in the city’s $50 million budget. Their dictum? Find the fat now.
The council agreed to hold a special meeting to do just that on June 20 at 4:30 p.m. in council chambers, a meeting that is open to the public.

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