“Better than balanced, it’s in the black!” This was the highlighted description of the budget in a PowerPoint presentation as City Manager Brenda Fischer and Financial Services Director Cynthia Sneed presented the Maricopa City Council with the tentative operating budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

After the budget retreat, according to Fischer, department heads came together and spent countless hours to propose a budget with “reductions that would be invisible to the public services and allow Maricopa to be sustainable.”

Although she has been city manager for only a few weeks, Fischer showed her knowledge of operating budgets. She explained that, with the proposed budget, the city could “stop using the reserves and begin to pay into both the operating and capital improvement reserves” for the first time since the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

Within this budget would be department restructurings and respective reductions in pay that would effectively save the city almost $570,000. Assistant City Manager Patrick Melvin would be moved to chief of police, his original position prior to being promoted to director of public safety and then assistant city manager. Assistant City Manager Roger Kolman would head community and development services with all other departments reporting directly to the city manager. Fourteen new hires would be delayed until January.

Since the budget retreat, Fischer and her department heads reviewed the numbers and operations and identified savings over $1.2 million, including $283,000 in cost-shared health benefits to city employees.

Human Resources Director Karen Schaffer reviewed options for employee contributions. She also presented research that found Maricopa was the only municipality among 27 comparable cities that paid 100 percent of employee insurance premiums. It was noted the number was skewed by Maricopa’s rapid growth and smaller towns had similar plans.

Fischer said employees would have to contribute 30 percent to the city's 70 percent for the city to achieve a $174,000 budget surplus. Additional options of 20 percent and 10 percent employee contributions were presented.

Councilmember Carl Diedrich expressed his appreciation for the city employees who had been working hard and discussed his concern with the city’s abilities to continue attracting “top talent” if it didn’t offer an extra incentive to prospective employees. Diedrich felt a 20 percent contribution would be the most reasonable, saying “cost sharing was appropriate and that staging of the plan was appropriate.”

However, Councilmember Marquisha Griffin said she could not support the plan. Because of the economy, “everyone has had to do more with less,” she said. “In the last few years, there have been no merit raises, no cost of living adjustments. I believe we are reducing their pay and cannot support it at this time.”

Vice Mayor Edward Farrell echoed Griffin’s sentiments. “I’m really torn on this one.” He proposed a different approach, asking whether the top tier salaries could be adjusted to balance the rates and impact on those at a lower pay scale. Both Schaffer and Mayor Anthony Smith felt it was discriminatory to do so.  

Councilmember Alan Marchione voiced his strong support of the plan: “The plan is good, and it is generous.”

“It’s not easy, but it’s the nature of the business,” said Marchione. “Eighty percent is fair and still keeps us in the black. City staff needs to recognize no one is getting laid off, and we are even adding.”

Councilmember Marvin Brown explained they had spent a great deal of time going over the different options in subcommittee, and “there had to be cost sharing.”

Both Brown and Smith credited Fischer for her efforts in bringing forward the balanced budget.

In a 5-2 vote, with Griffin and Councilmember Julia Gusse voting against, council approved the 20 percent contribution from city employees, which is projected to yield a $95,000 budget surplus.

Employee contributions will begin in October to allow time for the transition.

With the employee contribution issue resolved, council voted unanimously to tentatively adopt the 2011-2012 operating budget. 

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