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Portola council asks staff to forego raises Says yes to new fire equipment

Debra Moore
Staff Writer

The Portola City Council will continue to rely on temporary employees to get work done and will ask its permanent employees to forego cost of living and step pay increases.

Those were just two of the decisions that the City Council made during its 2012-13 budget workshop May 2.

Susan Scarlett, the city’s finance officer, led the council through the budget line by line, answering questions from the council and audience members. For the most part, the proposed budget mirrored last year’s spending, but revenues reflected an increase in water and sewer rates.

“This is the first budget workshop,” City Manager Leslie Tigan announced at the start of the meeting. “I hope it will be ready to adopt at the last meeting in June.”

For the next two-plus hours the council made several key decisions, but delayed discussing the water and sewer rates and their impact on the city’s revenue until a later date. Mayor Juliana Mark said a citizens group was working on water rates and was poised to make a recommendation to the council.


Fire department

The council spent some time discussing the potential of joining forces with the Beckwourth Fire Protection District.

Tigan said that she had been meeting with the Beckwourth district and thought that there were advantages to a merger, but that it would cost the city more. The Beckwourth district has a paid fire chief, assistant and office person.

By contrast, Portola’s fire chief receives a $100 per month stipend and holds down a full-time job.

Beckwourth also has state-of-the-art equipment and is in compliance with state regulations. Portola has outdated equipment and is falling behind in compliance issues.

“The routine stuff is not being done in Portola,” Tigan said.

Beckwourth residents pay a parcel tax to support the fire district and Tigan said that Portolans would need to follow suit if they joined with Beckwourth. Initially, it would cost Portola $100,000 per year to upgrade its equipment and pay its share of a fire chief and staff. She suggested that the money be taken from the reserve until a parcel tax could be passed.

“Water, sewer and public safety are the three biggest things a city provides for its people,” Tigan said, adding that it would be on the City Council’s shoulders to educate the public about the need for a parcel tax.

Councilman Curt McBride said that the city and Beckwourth fire have a mutual aid agreement currently so that the city already enjoys the benefits of the extra trucks and volunteers that Beckwourth provides.

“Yes, but you don’t get fire management with mutual aid,” Tigan said.

Tigan offered the council three options: making no change; pursuing a joint powers agreement with Beckwourth; or hiring a part-time fire chief to handle the management of the department.

McBride said that finding a part-time chief might be possible, because more fire chiefs were retiring early but still wanted to work.

The council decided to continue looking at a joint powers agreement as well.

While no final decision was made for the fire department’s future, the council did vote to spend $72,050 on self-contained breathing apparatus.


Web page design

Rather than contract with the Eastern Plumas Chamber of Commerce to redesign and support its Web page as suggested in the proposed budget, the city will follow the county’s lead and put the project out to bid.


City manager recruitment

Tigan has announced her intention to retire next year and the council allocated $10,000 to begin the replacement process.

“We have to start preparing for this,” Councilman John Larrieu said. “Leslie is going to retire next year and I don’t think the five of us can do this.”

Tigan said that it can be a long process and that enlisting the help of a retired city manager might be helpful. In addition to paying the individual for consulting, there would be other costs such as paying for applicants’ travel.


Zoning ordinance and housing element updates

The City Council decided to delay at least for a year the cost of updating zoning ordinances, which would cost an estimated $7,500, but said yes to spending $2,000 to update the housing elements. That’s because the latter is mandated by the state.


Railroad Days and Concerts in the Park

The City Council decided not to fund either event at this time, but would consider specific requests if they were made in the future.

The council debated the long-term viability of both events and what organizations might step forward to run them.


Water meters and master plan updates

The City Council voted to allocate $8,000 to meter its springs, but delayed spending $50,000 to update its water and sewer master plans.

“We need to meter these,” Todd Roberts, the city’s public works superintendent, said of the springs. “We need to show that we’re using them or we will lose them.”

Roberts explained that the city needed to protect its water rights.

As for the updates, finance officer Scarlett told the council, “We are not recommending this; there is no driving need to do it.”


Televised meetings

The council agreed to pay Sierra Town Productions $550 monthly to videotape its meetings, regardless of how many were held each month.

In addition to posting the videos to the Internet, the company will develop a way to make the video available to those who can’t access the Web.


COLA and step increases

The council said no to a 2.4 percent cost of living increase for its eight employees, which would have cost $12,021.69 for 2012-13.

Three employees are eligible for step increases in pay totaling $7,358.16. The council decided that the finance committee would meet with the three employees and ask them if they would forego the increases for now.

Councilman Phil Oels said he would only agree to that if there was “no duress or intimidation” involved with the process.


Finance officer changes

The council agreed to grant a $1,000 per month increase to Scarlett, and in turn she would drop the city’s health insurance. This resulted in a net annual savings to the city of $13,000.


Next step

The city will receive input from the citizens group regarding water and sewer rates at its City Council meeting tonight, May 9.

City Manager Tigan said that establishing the rates is the final decision the council members must make regarding the budget.

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