03/23/2010 Town Council Meeting Summary

Before I get into this summary, one of the most unusual episodes to occur in this Council meeting was the many times that Linda Abbott attacked the people who provided the public with a list of budget cutting ideas that were presented to the Council last December. These are people who oppose the tax increase, Prop 406. It seems that if these cuts are reported by the Citizens Budget Committee to the Council, they are appreciated. But if the same list is presented to the public by those who oppose Ms. Abbott’s “Public Safety” tax, they are “erroneous.” Watch for that part of the summary.

Did you know that Gilbert is a Storm Ready Community? Well the Town received an award Tuesday night from the National Weather Service. Go to www.stormready.noaa.gov if you’re interested in finding out more. Tonight, Eddie Cook, Erin Scroggins, Shane Stapley, Mickie Niland, Debbie Nelson, Gayle Disch, and I spoke out on various topics. Shane and I spoke to the issue of the Town’s role in prohibiting Gilbert citizens from holding bible studies in the privacy of their homes. For more information on that, please refer to the bible ban articles on this website. Both Shane and I felt it was important for the public to know that they should not assume that the Constitution of the United States of America is always respected or upheld by Council members. When they don’t uphold it, it is the responsibility of the citizenry to see that they do.

Erin advised the Council that several of the handmade “No on Prop 406” signs had been stolen, many of which had been made by children. Even though police reports had been filed, he asked that the Council take action on the situation as well. Eddie Cook presented a spreadsheet which summarized the year to date numbers of the General fund budget. He noted that Public Safety is in the black with a current positive balance of $47,353. He noted that the Town was maintaining the budgets for this category. Mickie Niland brought attention to the fact that the Council still has not taken advantage of the offer to the Town of free assistance for 1 year from one of the Steering Committee members whose specialty is in finance and organizational efficiency. Debbie Nelson spoke of her concern that the Town has money for bird festivals and other nonessentials and that she will walk her neighborhood encouraging them to scrutinize the decisions made by Council members. One pro-tax resident spoke, Gayle Disch, who is involved in Sister Cities and who founded Global Village Festival. She noted that Gilbert is the only city of its size that does not have a Use Tax, and she accused the anti-tax side of using scare tactics to get the Council to rescind three taxes it was ready to pass back in August. She felt that those taxes would have helped ease the government’s current burden. (I must state that taxing the people puts more financial burden on them. It is a “transfer” of money from the people to the Government.)

The Council approved spending around $2.5 million for various contracts. I noticed that there were three contracts that had been decreased, totalling $361,000. That was encouraging.

There was discussion about liquor licenses being granted, and Shane Stapley spoke of his concerns about the misery that is caused by alcohol. He was engaged in a debate with both Linda Abbott and Les Presmyk about this. Shane knows the history quite well and has always stood up to express his views on this subject. The Council voted to allow the licenses.

Much of the evening was spent talking about the budget, also the July 4 event, and $15,000 needed for fireworks. Because the amount seemed modest and the event celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and because so many people enjoy it, Mayor Lewis voted to approve spending the money. Jenn and Linda were not for spending the dollars, but it did pass.

Linda Abbott tried to discredit Eddie Cook’s numbers, calling them “erroneous,” ( Eddie had obtained those numbers from the 3/1/2010 spreadsheet Summary of Year to Date numbers of the General Fund Budget, approved by the Council each month.) She also attacked the list of budget cuts that appeared in the newsletter “Public Safety First, Vote No on 406.” This newsletter is published by the Families for Responsible Government, No on Prop 406 PAC. Her attacking these numbers is ironic, given the fact that those numbers were taken straight from the Citizens Budget Committee report presented to the Council by the Steering Committee last December. Those numbers were produced under the guidance of George Pettit and Town Staff, and represented the work of 54 Gilbert citizens over 8 intensive weeks. Also, the concept of the Citizens Budget Committee process was the original idea of Linda Abbott herself. She attacked the people who produced the list as “refusing to accept that this is not an easy fix,” and that they were making “grand assumptions,” and “don’t appreciate the complexity.” The people who presented that list to the public happened to be members of the Steering Committee.

Marc Skocypec presented February 2010 numbers, which indicated that the General Fund revenues were up and expenses were down. Sales taxes were higher than expected. Also, money taken in through SDF’s (System Development Fees) was up by $9 million. Keep in mind that SDF’s do not fall into the General Fund category, where the shortfall is expected.

Marc also noted that there is $20-21 million in the “rainy day fund” and advised the Council that they should create a policy on that. This is the amount that the Council has set aside over the last 90 or so years.

As is a very common procedure, Marc also presented several charts, including one that compares the number of Town employees per 1,000 Gilbert population, and compared this to other surrounding communities. Now, why would Town Staff provide this comparison to surrounding communities? What do those numbers tell us? Literally, nothing. Here’s why: Variables. That chart compares apples to oranges. For one thing, Gilbert contracts many of its services out to independent contractors, such as for landscaping, parks, street striping, etc. Also, Mesa has its own in-house staff of tax collectors. Gilbert uses the staff at the State of Arizona for this purpose. So, even though there are many people involved in performing these tasks, they are not included in the Town employee count. Even with Marc making an effort to clarify this, the public believes that Gilbert’s town staff has to serve more residents than other communities. Very misleading.

The Interim Town Manager, Collin Dewitt advised that he and the other managers had been working very hard vetting the Employee suggestions, and the CBC (Citizen Budget Committee) suggestions, plus renegotiating contracts that affect the General Fund. They have “suspended” ALL vehicle allowances. To Jenn’s question to him about utilizing the free services of Steering Committee member Jeff Niland to help the Town with its organizational efficiency, Collin said they were looking into it, but that he was working with staff who are CPA’s and doing a great job. (Please see the article that appears in Gilbert Watch written by Jeff Niland titled “The Money is There!”) Collin advised that he is gearing his budget cuts as if there will not be a tax increase and assuming the worst case scenario. It has been a “slow, detailed process,” and he will have a presentation this Saturday, 8 AM, at a special meeting to be held in Conference Room #300. THIS WILL NOT BE TELEVISED. So, if you are interested, please attend.

Linda Abbott brought up, and Collin confirmed, that lay-offs are a definite possibility. He stated that the Council had the list of proposed people to lay off and those employees had been notified. He said the list of people has been “prioritized.”

There was no discussion about a employee salary or benefit reductions. Perhaps this will be discussed at Saturday’s meeting.

John Sentz brought up the issue of a possible shortfall of State shared revenue, and how this will affect the budget.

Also, there will be a meeting on May 25 with the three labor groups representing Police, Fire, and regular Staff, right after the election results.

Jenn Daniels asked that a discussion of odd versus even year elections be put on the 4/6 agenda. Hopefully, the Council will vote for even years, which will save the taxpayers about $232,000, and more with each election year, since it would piggy-back on other elections.