Mattawa City Council modifies preliminary budget

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MATTAWA — The Mattawa City Council approved some modifications of the city’s preliminary budget during its regular meeting on Thursday, Dec. 5. The changes come as a result of two department heads requesting additional staff in previous council meetings.

In a November staff meeting, Mattawa Public Works Director Juan Ledezma indicated that he no longer wanted animal control to be part of public works. In response, Mattawa Police Chief Joe Harris proposed a utility officer that would do animal control and code enforcement during the Nov. 21 city council meeting. In return, Ledezma proposed adding another public works staff member that would enforce city code violations. Both proposals were tabled until the Dec. 5 meeting.

In a memorandum after that meeting, Mattawa Mayor Scott Hyndman told the police department that animal control was now part of their responsibility.

When council revisited the subject at Thursday’s meeting, Harris said that the money received from Proposition 1 would pay for half of the utility officer. The city would only need to supply $38,000. He said that there was extra money in the water and sewer funds that could pay for the officer, if it was transferred into the general fund. He also said that with that the city would still have more than the required amount of reserve funds, as dictated by the State Auditor’s Office.

But Hyndman and Ledezma didn’t like the proposal.

“Basically, I think we’re overspending our budget before we even get it,” Hyndman said.

“We need a reserve,” Ledezma said. “I’d like to remind the council that the city was sued for a water issue. I don’t agree with $15,000 from water to police.”

Ledezma pointed out that in the last two years, the city has had only two water violations.

“Historically, we’ve never had anyone actively looking for violations,” Harris said. “Regardless of how it gets funded, it is needed.”

When asked how many hours his crew puts into animal control, he said they spend several hundred hours a year.

“This year in 2019, we only have $6,000 allocated for animal control,” Ledezma said. “We’re already over budget. In 2021, with Prop 1, those funds would be there.”

“With everything funded, the $200,000 for replacement water lines, the five or six things that you guys as council pointed out, all the reserves were still within the SAO guidelines,” Harris said.

In spite of Harris’ statements about more than adequate funding in reserves, Hyndman still argued that spending the $38,000 needed for the utility officer would make the city go broke. Council briefly discussed raising the city’s internal taxes on the water and sewer funds. Ledezma said that if any extra taxes were taken from those funds, it should go to streets because “streets never get done.”

Council member Tony Acosta commented that there are a lot of dogs and chickens running around Mattawa and that the laws don’t seem to be enforced. Harris mentioned the memorandum from the mayor, stating that if animal enforcement was going to be under the police instead of public works, the department would need to be compensated for it.

“I don’t think the police department should have to pay for other departments lack of allocation of funds,” Harris said.

Ledezma pointed out that Mattawa doesn’t have adequate places to house dogs, especially during the winter. He did mention that the pound is supposed to be receiving some improvements in 2020, but did not mention heating.

Ledezma as said that while public works shouldn’t have to catch dogs, he was willing to help. Currently, some of the public works job descriptions include animal control.

Harris said that when he first came to Mattawa, animal enforcement was part of the police department’s responsibility. He is concerned that if his staff catches a dog, there will be no place for the dog to be housed.

According to Harris, council approved $10,000 for the pound to be updated, but it never happened. Ledezma said that it was approved before he became director. He had no idea what projects were going on and that the funds were never appropriately allocated. Harris pointed out that if a dog dies in city custody, it is a liability to the city.

“That’s why we don’t catch dogs in the winter,” Hyndman said.

Harris also said that he was confused about whether public works wants animal control.

“They don’t want it, but they want to be part of it,” Harris said. “They don’t want it, not they want it back.”

One of the city council members expressed similar confusion.

“We just need another person on staff,” Ledezma said. “We only have four people on staff. The police department has increased. We do need more support. Animal control should be under the wing of the police department. If they’re not willing to do the daily task of handing out tickets or do the dog control piece, we want it all. I do need water personnel and staff.”

In the end, the council voted to include both the utility position and the public works position on the 2020 budget. Council will approve the final budget at its next meeting on Thursday, Dec. 19, at 5:30 p.m.

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