Victoria council starts budget process

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

July 16, 2012 at 2:16 a.m.

While the upcoming fiscal year budget is still a "work-in-progress," Victoria is set to see multi-million dollar increases in sales tax revenue, officials announced.

Victoria City Council met Monday afternoon for its first budget workshop meeting. The council expects to have the budget ready for approval by Aug. 7.

If council approves the proposed budget, the police department could see a new pay structure; all employees could see a 3 percent across-the-board raise; and several other employees will be adjusted to the new pay structure.

Pay structure has been a major issue at the police department.

Councilman Emett Alvarez said he hopes to see a long-term solution that brings Victoria's finest up to market pay ranges.

The proposed plan adds a pay grade for police trainees at $38,323, and provides more structure for advancement from officer to senior officer.

The police department will present its proposed budget during another workshop meeting July 23.

Chief J.J. Craig said he wants to add additional incentive pay based on skills and merits.

"I believe we should be investing appropriately with our employees on the front end as opposed to the back end," he said. "It'll be an investment."

Alvarez said he wants to see a bigger difference between officer and senior officer pay.

"I hate losing our police officers, and it seems like a reoccurring problem," he said. "I'm tired of being a training ground for other departments."

According to the city's market study, of the 117 total turnover from June 1, 2011, to June 1, 2012, 72 resigned for a better job, personal reasons or job dissatisfaction. Public Works had 30 percent of total turnover, followed by parks and recreation at 19 percent and the police department at 13 percent.

When the city moved from its pay for performance structure, police staff lost their roadmap for salary advancement.

Victoria Human Resources Director Cheryl Marthiljohni said the current pay scale is based on responsibility.

Charmelle Garrett, city manager, said the issue is ongoing.

"Every few years, police officers would like to be paid more, but so would our other employees," she said. "We have a tendency to get from smaller cities. It's not just police officers, it's citywide, in all departments."

Garrett said she expects the city will be able to afford to bring back a pay for performance program next year.

Victoria Finance Director Gilbert Reyna said the goal of the budget is to address the city's challenges and opportunities, allow for flexibility for economic uncertainty and reflect the community's desires.

But with three cities in California recently declaring bankruptcy, he said the needs to be cautious.

"It's a vision, a plan to move forward of where you want to be in the future," Reyna said.

The city is proposing a lower ad valorem tax rate at 63.4 cents per $100 of assessed value from this year's 64.5 cent rate.

The estimated effective tax rate is 62.59 cents.

Under the proposed budget, there are $44.9 million in expenditures, including the 3 percent raise, which is estimated to cost about $800,000; two police department positions; increased maintenance and operating costs; and increased capital costs, which includes more than $2 million in street repairs.

Reyna said the projected year-end fund balance will be about $19.4 million. He wants to see $11.2 million of that reserved.

The remaining $8.2 million could be saved or spent on one-time expenses, fixing residential streets, the capital improvement program or however council chooses.

Councilman Tom Halepaska said the budget proposal is a good starting point, but "there's always more work to be done."

He said the process is a balancing act of being fair to employees, fair to taxpayers and balancing the revenues.

"We try to lower taxes over a trend and it's come down quite a few pennies over the past eight years," he said. "That's all we can do."



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