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Westmorland facing $300,000 general fund deficit

April 18, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

WESTMORLAND — The City Council here is facing a headache in a $300,000 general fund deficit, which could take the city five years to overcome.

The council was told of the financial dilemma by the city's auditor, Wayne Harvie of Brawley, during the council meeting Wednesday.

The council has three new members — Henry Graham, Victor Sanchez and Thomas Landrum — who have joined Mayor Larry Ritchie and councilman John Makin, and the discussion Wednesday focused on solving the financial matter.

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That will be no easy task.

Harvie told the council first it must have all the information it needs to make the budgetary decisions necessary in coming meetings.

Council members said they would schedule budget workshops with Harvie to discuss how the city has reached the point where it is in the red and what can be done about it.

Graham asked Harvie to looks at the city as if it were a business and to decide whether he thinks the city has been a good financial manager.

Harvie responded that the council could be fiscally responsible if it had all the information when it makes decisions in budgetary matters. Harvie said he is not sure the council has had all the information it needs.

Council members said they are prepared to take necessary steps and added some actions have already been taken.

Ritchie spoke of the council's recent removal of the finance director and assistant finance director. Ritchie added "hopefully" there will be no curtailment of services. The two positions cut amount to savings of about $60,000 per year.

In another issue related to finances, City Treasurer Sandra Pereda resigned during the meeting. In a letter she read to the council she did not state her reasons for her resignation.

The council has 30 days to appoint someone who would fill that position until an election is held. The next regularly scheduled election is set for November.

In addition, the council Wednesday directed City Attorney Mitch Driskill to draft an ordinance that, if approved by the council, would be presented to voters for the creation of an transient occupancy tax.

Driskill brought up the issue of the tax in light of the fact a developer has plans to build a motel within the city, and Westmorland could generate revenue through the creation of a transient occupancy tax. The council will vote on setting an ordinance for a ballot measure during a future meeting.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to retain the services of Joel Hamby, a former Westmorland councilman who has been a consultant on the city's water and wastewater projects.

Hamby will continue as a consultant on a month-to-month basis, likely through October.

The water plant's major upgrade project is expected to be finished by April 27. The $5 million project, funded mostly through federal grants, will increase the city's water capacity from 1 million gallons to 2 million gallons per day.

The wastewater project involves building an entirely new plant at a cost reaching the $5 million mark and also funded mainly through federal grants.

That project will increase the wastewater plant capacity from 300,000 gallons to 500,000 gallons per day. That project is expected to be finished by July 6. A portion of the project was funded through federal loans.

Property owners in the city agreed to pay an assessment to cover what amounts to $1.3 million in debt service on a loan for the water plant and $500,000 in debt service on a loan for the wastewater plant.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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