Here’s what you need to know:
- An annual budget of $297,487,000 for 2022-23 was approved, with the largest shares going to public safety ($69,893,000) and public utilities ($75,000,000).
- Councilmembers’ budget-related concerns were centered around funding for prevention of potential cyber-security issues and the difficulty of understanding how to dispose of compostable trash.
- The cost of running municipal elections will be lower because they will be consolidated with state elections as of November 2022.
Mayor Flores opened the meeting at 6:02 p.m. The flag salute was led by Mayor Pro-tem Ashbeck, who said, “Please join me in the flag salute.” Clerk Cha called the roll; all were present. There appeared to be few members of the public in attendance in person; online attendees via Webex were three. Various city department leaders gave presentations about their 2022-23 budget proposals, the subject of several recent closed sessions. Discussion followed each presentation, though Council Member Whalen was quiet throughout the meeting.
Jose Flores, Mayor
Drew Bessinger, Council member
Lynne Ashbeck, Mayor Pro-tem
Bob Whalen, Council member
Vong Mouanoutoua, Council member
John Holt, City Manager
Andy Haussler, Assistant City Manager
Scott Cross, City Attorney
Karey Cha, City Clerk
Public Comments regarding items not on agenda. A Clovis resident, who Flores addressed as “Marcus” stepped to the podium. He folded a collapsible cane before speaking; he wore a face-mask, dark glasses and a baseball cap. He said that usually, he has “constructive criticism” but that this time he wanted to mention three points: first, a firing range near his residence was “out of compliance;” next he talked about a neighbor who was also “out of compliance” and complained about loud music, underage drinking, and “questionable individuals” who visited the neighbor’s house; last, he said that school students should be “trained” not to “run” but to “handle situations” in which “individuals” attempt to “terminate lives.” He referred to school shootings by people who have easy access to guns, but he was not otherwise explicit. Flores asked if there were others who wanted to comment; there were none.
Agenda Items #1-7 Consent calendar. Items included investment reports, minutes from previous meeting, and filings for recent decisions. None pulled for discussion. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #8 Approval of the transitory occupancy tax (TOT) as an ordinance amending the municipal code; contingent upon voter approval in November 2022, per City Manager Holt. Ashbeck said that she was opposed only to the language of the ballot measure (hence her previous “no” vote), not the tax. Passed 5-0.
Agenda Item #9 Annual budget for 2022-23. Each city department made a presentation; first was Jay Schengel of the Finance Department. The total annual budget is set at nearly $298,000,000 with the largest shares going to public safety ($69,893,000) and public utilities ($75,000,000). Schengel said that the utility billing system is 30 years old and needs to be upgraded to a paperless billing system for water/sewer use. Water-meter reading also needs to be automated, Schengel said. Whalen asked about the software for these functions; Schengel said that they are currently receiving bids. Mouanoutoua asked how long it would take to change to an automated system once the software is contracted for; Schengel estimated 12-18 months. Schengel was joined by Scott Redelfs from the Public Utilities department, who spoke about upgrading residential water meters and availability in the future of a smart-phone app which would monitor water usage.
Andy Haussler, Assistant City Manager, introduced the city’s administrative budget, including elections, circulation of municipal code information and records management. Clerk Karey Cha noted that the clerk’s budget depends on whether there is an election in a given year; 2022-23 does include one, but it will now be consolidated with the state election, so costs will be lower than in the past. Cha noted that a departmental goal is to improve and streamline administrative processes. She noted that the help and assistance the department received from the city’s IT staff is “incredible.”
Jesse Velez of the IT department said that he has a staff of 18 who manage “anything you can plug in” and that the total proposed budget for 2022-23 was $5,620,000. The department has a vacancy for a cyber security analyst. Ashbeck asked if there were any “challenges” in recruiting IT “folks.” Velez replied that they were receiving fewer applications than in the past; whereas they now receive about 40 applications for an entry-level positions, in the past applications numbered about 120. Ashbeck asked about how one stays “employer of choice” and commented that though she loves Clovis, the city often waits until it’s too late to upgrade systems or streamline processes. “We’re frugal,” she said, but that meant the city might get behind in upgrades. Then she said that her requests for printed copies of agenda packets likely increase city costs—“I know you talk about me,” she said.
Bessinger said he was concerned about cyber security. He said that two of his Facebook friends were “hacked,” he said. Further, an elderly neighbor of his appeared at a Von’s supermarket check-out with four $500 gift cards, having been asked by a stranger to buy them, and at the moment she was purchasing, “the scammer was on the phone,” so the theft was averted. “I don’t want us to come to the party late and they hold us ransom,” Bessinger said. Mouanoutoua chimed in: “with regards to” [sic] security, what happens next? Is just one cyber-security analyst enough? Velez said that one staff person was a “good start” and that “vulnerabilities and threats” are growing exponentially. Mouanoutoua asked if one analyst would work for all city departments; Velez said that the security analyst would report to him while working in the same capacity for all city departments. Mouanoutoua said to Velez that “my desire is to have it all under you.” He seemed to waiver, however, adding that “soon every department wants their own IT,” and “maybe that’s not the desire of the different departments.” What was his point?
Holt then spoke: he said that he had already discussed with Velez the issue of centralized as opposed to decentralized cyber-security systems. He noted that currently a hybrid approach seems to work well. Velez said he’d have a staff of 25 if he could, and Mouanoutoua expressed his fears: “I hope we don’t have attacks and then regret it;” he added remarks reflecting anxiety, wondering what would happen if “they” should “shut down our water” and the like. Then Holt told Mouanoutoua, “You may not recall, but it was your idea to add this position.”
Ashbeck said that public safety “gets all the attention” but “if tech fails” the fallout would be critical. Bessinger said it’s a critical issue, and that’s why there are emergency funds.
Next, Police Department Chief Curt Fleming presented his department’s budget, proposed at $69,893,000 for 2022-23. He said that several positions for sworn officers (four corporals, four sergeants, one lieutenant) which had been eliminated because of lack of budget will be restored, and several new positions (three officers, one communications manager), and several line-item increases (vehicle replacement, K-9 unit, recruitment, etc.). Fleming cited department goals, one of which is to be the “safest city in the Valley,” a phrase which was criticized earlier this year by the Citizens Advisory Committee on police staffing because it frames safety as a competition rather than a more substantive issue. Nevertheless, the phrase surfaced again at this meeting.
Money in the budget for license-plate reading technology will aid the police in catching “people coming into our city to commit crime,” Fleming said.
There are currently 112 sworn officers serving the city’s population of 124,000. Bessinger asked if the city has “hit a point” at which Community Service Officers (CSOs) are no longer effective? Fleming said that no, there was definitely a need for more civilian staff.
A sore point is the number of traffic complaints—speeding, racing, vehicular noise. Additions to the traffic unit must be sworn officers, not civilians. There are currently only two such officers assigned to traffic detail, and one is busy with administrative work about half his time, hence traffic complaints routinely go unaddressed.
More discussion on police staffing ensued—Ashbeck asked if mental-health workers were still employed; Fleming said there were currently two and one more was sought. Ashbeck wondered if the Clovis police could offer “support” at school and church “gatherings” given “what happened in Texas” (alluding to one of the country’s many recent mass shootings, this one at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas) and emphasized that she was not speaking in a “paranoid” way but was simply being “pro-active” in raising the issue. Fleming replied that he has a meeting with the Clovis Unified School District in two weeks when they will “look at safety plans.” He also mentioned an upcoming Faith And Blue event in the fall, but it was unclear how church events would promote public safety beyond the religious institutions. Bessinger said he had done “quite a few” presentations in schools about “active shooters” and mentioned he could suggest others who could volunteer to do the same. This discussion then turned to the proliferation of guns and how that affects police work, but the subject was not mentioned. None of this discussion was explicitly connected to the 2022-23 budget.
Further straying from the subject of the annual budget, Mouanoutoua asked if a 90% public satisfaction rating (based on responses to text-message surveys following residents’ calls to police) was a goal? Why not make it 92%? “How come we don’t ‘up’ it?” he asked, but he didn’t explain why the rating goal should be 2% higher. Mouanoutoua then asked about “the homeless situation.” He asked if Fresno’s Project Off-Ramp is causing homeless people to flow into Clovis? Fleming said that the homeless population in Clovis has increased and that the Clovis police department partners with the Rescue Mission to help unhoused people in need of services, and officers are trained, he said, to provide this help. “It’s not a crime to be homeless,” he continued, and pointed out that it is not his goal to merely push homeless people back but to try to help people who are “down on their luck.” Fleming said that Clovis has an anti-camping ordinance, so people who sleep on the street or in public spaces are breaking the law.
Next, Fire Department Chief John Binaski presented his department’s 2022-23 budget, which he called a “status-quo” budget without much change overall. Inflation is affecting some costs, such as diesel fuel, but there were no increases in staffing or big capital items. Projects requiring completion have already been funded.
Next, Scott Redelfs, Public Utilities Director presented his department’s 2022-23 budget. Water, streets, parks, street lights, garbage, recycling, street sweeping, and associated vehicles are included in this department’s budget, which is about $75,386,000. Redelfs complained about the cost of diesel fuel for his department’s fleet, but no mention was made of conversion to electric vehicles. He also spoke about water usage and said that there was a state mandate to “change the color of sidewalk turf to a lovely brown,” referring to the current restrictions because of the severe water shortage. He raised the issue of replacing grass with something drought tolerant, but it was not mentioned as a budget item. He spoke about a 1990s California governor, Pete Wilson, who Redelfs said had water policies which were “more straightforward.” There was laughter and unintelligible cross-talk.
Bessinger wanted to discuss the collection of green waste, or “organics,” as this trash is called. He said it felt “foreign” to him to put paper plates and pizza boxes in the green waste bin, even though Clovis has been collecting green waste for years and producing compost which is distributed free to residents. He asked Redelfs to “let us know” if a “vermin problem” develops. Rather than encourage the council to adapt to and manage the rules, the Director of Public Utilities joined in complaints regarding what Bessinger and others were describing as an unreasonable system; Redelfs expressed hostility toward the trash-collection laws he is charged with managing and said that he would be “watching for consequences,” that the laws were not well “thought out,” and that rinsing cans and bottles before placing in recycling bins was unreasonable because of the water shortage. “We’re going to look at vermin and flies, especially in Old Town,” he said but made no mention of any means of repelling pests, such as wrapping food scraps in paper bags. Bessinger related an anecdote: he put “some fat from a steak” in his green bin, and that “can’t be good.” “Well,” he said, the regulations, “come from the state of California.” Redelfs agreed that throwing compostable trash in a separate bin is “foreign” but he conceded that “good education and outreach” would be necessary.
Ashbeck said that she felt a consequence of the trash laws would be “less recycling” but she did not explain how. “It’s not worth it,” she asserted without elaborating. Redelfs said, “The state in its infinite wisdom is making us the regulatory body.”
Ashbeck asked about zoning in her neighborhood and wondered if it could be simplified. She was not qualified to vote on a landscape maintenance issue recently because of arcane zoning ordinances. Redelfs said a change would require an election. Ashbeck asked if there was a way to think about charging for zone landscaping in a simpler way. “Harry [Armstrong, former councilmember] used to say, ‘It’s more expensive to fix it.’” Then she said, “Do I sound paranoid?”Redelfs said that newer developments have funding built in. Ashbeck said she wanted to avoid decline in neighborhoods such as hers where a recent vote to fund public landscape maintenance failed.
At this point Mouanoutoua asked about replacing street signs; Clovis street signs are brown, while Fresno’s are green. Mouanoutoua then expressed a concern that “the public” thinks “we are not doing much” and suggested that projects be publicized.
Next to present was Renee Mathis, Planning and Development Services Director. Her department’s proposed budget for 2022-23 is about $14,870,000. She noted that there has been a large turnover in staff and that there are several staff vacancies currently. Some of the department’s funds are from fees charged for services, such as permitting. Grants, Mathis said, are an important component of her funding forecast. She affirmed that the department had the budget to sustain continued community development.
Mouanoutoua asked if Mathis was still “taking interns.” Mathis replied that she will take “almost anyone.” Then he noted that he “worried” about “slow years” for the department as it is an “enterprise funded” department—how do you plan for a slow year, he asked. Mathis noted that their five-year plan includes funds for a “down year,” hence she is not concerned with slowdowns in permitting revenues. Ashbeck asked about staff vacancies—there are now 10. Ashbeck suggested hiring retired people to fill vacancies part-time. Mathis said she would “look into it.”
Shonna Halterman next presented proposed 2022-23 budget for General Services, annual cost of which is about $61,960,00. Covered areas include employee benefits, senior services, transit, facilities maintenance and liability insurance — the latter’s cost has increased about 20% because of losses in the risk-management pool. Expenses include post-pandemic reinstatement of programs at the senior center, bus purchases, furniture for the Harry Armstrong Transit Center, transit electrification plan, automated passenger counters. Not much discussion.
Andy Haussler presented the 2022-23 budget proposal for Community and Economic Development. The budget is about $9,000,000, most of which is grants from the state of California for affordable housing. Mouanoutoua asked Haussler if the city tracks how much “we get” from “street vendors.” Haussler said that a vendor has to have a Clovis license but that code enforcement is lacking. He added that he is trying to arrange for permits for popular food trucks. Then Mouanoutoua wanted to know if the city was “partnering” with Habitat for Humanity. Haussler said that was a subject for next week’s agenda.
At this point, Holt noted that the budget must be approved by June 30, and Flores asked if there were any comments from the public — there were none. Ashbeck wanted to make sure that funds were set aside for the recently proposed Historic Preservation Commission as well as for “citizen engagement” programs, such as the Clovis Citizens’ Academy. Mouanoutoua said to Holt that the budget was “always an excellent document.” Was it online, he asked, because online “you can enlarge it and stuff” [sic].
The budget was approved 5-0.
City Manager Comments Holt had none.
Mouanoutoua “We had a housing meeting last Friday,” he commented, without clarifying who “we” were or what entity he was referring to. He talked about “our hopes for local control” but the context was unclear. He mentioned a proposed rule by which voters of local jurisdictions could veto state law and some similar proposals which would cancel state law and prioritize voters on a municipal level, if they voted against a state law.
Bessinger is a member of the Public Safety Committee of The League of California Cities; he reported that they oppose permitting tribal groups to host sports wagering, dice games, and the like on tribal land. Bessinger said it would “cut out our card rooms.” He was concerned that these activities on tribal land would lead to “gambling addiction.” He said that going to a tribal gambling joint would be “more convenient” than going to “Vegas,” presumably because traveling to Nevada entailed more planning and expense, and gambling closer to home would make it easier for “problem gamblers” to indulge their habit, but it raised the question of why the convenience of a card room was any different. “I occasionally like to bet on horse races,” he concluded.
Mouanoutoua broke in: “I have one more”—he then offered his congratulations to Whalen, who Mouanoutoua said “got more than one vote” in the recent election in which he ran unopposed for a County judgeship.
Ashbeck asked if staff could follow up with the commenter, Marcus, about the gun range. She said he always mentions the same issues when he appears before the council. She also said that she would be absent for the scheduled July 11 meeting, and Holt then said that meeting date was to be canceled.
Flores also congratulated Whalen, and as he did last week, reiterated his assertions about certain public meetings circumventing Brown Act rules using COVID as a pretext, but he was not more specific.
The Council went into closed session at 8:31 p.m. after which they adjourned. No reports were made from the closed session.
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