Conflict fills final budget hearing

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Council’s discussion heats up

By Jennifer Garcia

Tension rose and emotions ran high during Tuesday night’s County Council meeting. Discussion of the airport and environmental services went off without a hitch, however when the administrative services and capital improvement process topics came up, a heated discussion ensued.

Chief Financial Officer Steven Lynne began the administrative services discussion by saying that there has been a notable increase in the Information Technology division. He said the division has grown because of the dependence on technology. He also mentioned that more training will be done online in an effort to cut costs. In addition, software and subscriptions that aren’t cost effective are also being cut and overtime is being reduced.

IT Manager Laura Gonzales told council that the cuts will have a long-term effect on the IT staff. “We’re looking at this as a short-term solution,” she said.

Concerned about a $30,000 increase in the adopted budget for the purpose of purchasing steel-toed shoes for county employees, Councilor Vincent Chiravalle questioned whether or not the whole $30,000 was going to be spent buying shoes. “How many pairs of steel-toed shoes can we buy with $30,000?” he queried.

Lynne said the number of shoes account for almost the entire amount. Risk Manager Joe Thomas answered Chiravalle by saying that it’s determined which county employees need steel-toed shoes by

reviewing their job descriptions. He also said in the past, a voucher was issued for the shoes, however, this year, a stipend of about $160 per employee was included in their paychecks for the purchase of the shoes. “It costs about $125 for a good steel-toed boot,” Thomas said.

“There’s a great number of people that need these boots,” Lynne added.

Following further administrative services talk, Councilor Sharon Stover moved to tentatively approve the non-departmental budget. Councilor Ralph Phelps seconded the motion. Councilor Michael Wheeler offered a friendly amendment that council increase the budget item for economic development to the allowable statutory limit of $4 million per year. Phelps and Stover accepted the amendment and the motion passed 5-2, with Councilors Robert Gibson and Chiravalle voting against it.

Gibson made clear his dissatisfaction with the motion and the vote. “It’s amazing to me that we’d arbitrarily increase this by $4 million without discussing where it’s going to come from,” Gibson said following the vote. “It appalls me.”

Councilors continued to disagree as the capital improvement program came up for discussion. Public Works Director Kyle Zimmerman presented council with a year-by-year list of areas that will be affected by the Road Reconstruction Program, which will run from 2011-2015.

Part of the reconstruction process includes widening sidewalks to 5 feet to comply with the Americans with Disabilities standards.

Chiravalle asked whether all the sidewalks would be re-done and whether it would incur any cost to homeowners. “Some homeowners have landscaped or installed sprinkler systems up to the county right-of-way, so yes,” Zimmerman responded.

Chiravalle appeared to be incensed at the thought that widening the sidewalks to comply with ADA standards might cost his constituents money. He also said that he did not believe that 5-foot sidewalks are needed.

Chiravalle’s comments did not sit well with Wheeler, however. “For a councilor to say that we not comply with ADA standards is ridiculous, but it also borders on incompetent. I can’t let this go by without saying something,” he said.