Travel costs still sore subject for council, mayor
Only a month after tempers flared at a Yuma City Council meeting over the mayor's request for additional travel dollars, how much money to allot for travel by elected officials again drew heated discussion as the council began work on the fiscal year 2012-14 budget.
Although only a small part of the city's approximately $200 million annual budget, the mayor and council budget took up much of the meeting Monday.
The tentative budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1 sets $205,812 for operating costs and travel expenses for the mayor and six council members. That's down from $231,030 in the current budget and an even more significant decrease from the $259,959 in actual expenses in the previous year.
Travel has been a sore subject for the council, which last year voted to allocate $9,000 to the mayor and $3,000 to each of the council members rather than have one lump sum for all seven to draw from.
Deputy Mayor Leslie McClendon suggested this would be a good time to take a close took at travel and prioritize trips since this is an election year for mayor and three council seats.
“We should take a good look at everyone's situation and act wisely,” she said. “So we have a plan and there are no surprises” — and avoid the shouting that took place last month at the meeting and afterwards.
Mayor Al Krieger said he still has commitments as the sitting mayor, including an out-of-state trip to a meeting of the League of Cities and Towns military committee he serves on.
He cautioned against the council trying to “micromanage the mayor. The potential is there. It likely will cause more conflict and contention than anything else.”
Councilman Ed Thomas brought up the issue that since Krieger is not seeking re-election, that makes the mayor a “lame duck” and suggested that any travel he takes between now and the end of his term at the end of the year would be a “paid vacation” at taxpayer expense.
“As an elected official and a taxpayer, I can't justify sending an official on a paid vacation,” said Thomas.
To that, Krieger responded: “Where does vacation come in? I'm an elected official on city business.”
One thing the council and mayor did seem to agree on is that the travel budget is underfunded. A further question was raised about the cost of fees for incoming council members and new mayor to attend training that would eat into their travel budget.
City Administrator Greg Wilkinson offered a compromise: budget $4,000 for training costs and establish a “pool” of $7,000 to provide additional travel funds as needed.
In other business, the council looked at funding for outside agencies that provide services to the city. For the most part, the suggested funding levels would remain the same, with Quartermaster Depot to receive $150,000, Yuma Visitors Bureau $650,000, lobbying $217,656, Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority $200,000, Safe House $15,500, Amberly's Place $52,380 and Crossroads Mission/detox $27,000.
Funding for Greater Yuma Economic Development Corp. would go up $3,000 to round it off to $250,000. Yuma Fine Arts Association would receive $40,000, an increase of $5,000. The amount to Yuma Metropolitan Planning Organization would decrease to $25,000 from $78,773 because of the state's confiscating HURF (Highway User Revenue Funds) that funded that allocation.
Councilman Paul Johnson recalled that several years ago, the county cut its contribution to GYEDC significantly and some of the other smaller communities are paying only a “token” amount to the organization tasked with attracting new jobs to the area.
“I'm not an advocate that we cut it,” Johnson said. “We have a horrible job situation here, but it would be nice if the other agencies would step up to the plate and pay their fair share.”
Councilwoman Bobbi Lewis noted that in March, GYEDC delivered a report to the council that five companies are investing millions of dollars in Yuma this year, creating jobs and adding an estimated $1 million in new tax revenues for the city.
“We need to continue to support them,” she said.
Wilkinson said GYEDC's efforts are but a part of what the city is doing to stimulate economic development. He estimated that the city spent more than $1 million last year for economic development with its support of GYEDC and Yuma Visitors Bureau, internal efforts and things it has done for Convey Health Solutions and Johnson Controls.
“I think the city is doing its part,” Wilkinson concluded.
The council will hold a second budget meeting on June 3 when it will go over everything in the budget.