The board of directors approved the budget for next fiscal year Wednesday, June 9, which includes lowering costs by more than $500,000, increasing the four special taxes in town by 4 percent, opening the Mountain House library seven days a week and adding new events for community members.
The initial vote to pass the budget failed 3-2 Wednesday night, with board members Matt Balzarini, Eric Payne and Andy Su voting against it.
The budget passed with changes by a 3-0 vote later in the meeting. Board members Eric Payne and Matt Balzarini left the meeting before the final vote was taken for personal reasons.
The board met three times in the past month to review the budget, hash out questions and make suggestions for changes.
Payne and Balzarini expressed concern about “top-heavy management” and said it was not the time to give promotions to employees.
The budget brought before the board members suggested giving two employees promotions for next fiscal year and creating two new positions — one full-time accounting job and another part-time events coordinator position.
“I think we need to be at full service before we start giving raises,” Payne said. “Raises are deserved, as are the promotions, but I think we have to look at the big picture.”
Payne said the big picture is about putting the “community first.”
Gay Giles, the district’s business manager, said it was a necessary request, as she more accounting staff in the office to help with tracking delinquent water bill payments and other billing responsibilities.
Balzarini suggested hiring non-management, “lower-level” employees as a cost-saving measure.
“I just cannot make sense of making promotions right now with the current state that we’re in,” Balzarini said.
Employees at the community services district will receive a 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise, which most government employees typically receive annually.
Last year, all 13 employees at the community services district voluntarily declined a cost-of-living increase. In February 2009, 14 of the 27 full-time employees at the district lost their jobs because of budget cuts, and all part-time employees were given pink slips.
Giles estimated those reductions saved almost $1.2 million for the town, which has 10,000 residents today.
The first residents moved to Mountain House in July 2003, and the Mountain House Community Services District was formed in July 1996. Spending questions, and a final budget
Most of the board members expressed concern with how money is spent and said money and time could be used more efficiently.
“I just think that, overall, we are still spending more money than we should be spending,” board president Andy Su said.
Mountain House resident Jass Singh was critical of the board during the meeting and suggested volunteering his time to go line by line through the budget to find ways to cut spending. Singh was very vocal against raising taxes on residents without cutting salaries of office employees and said negative numbers in the budget make the community look bad.
After a nearly four-hour public meeting, the three board members who were present at the end of the meeting — Jim Lamb, Andy Su and Bernice Tingle — voted to approve the budget with an additional $120,000 in cuts.
They voted to cut down the number of concerts in the park from six to four in the next fiscal year, suggested asking the youth action committee to start up a haunted house for Halloween and opted not to spend an additional $50,000 to mow the lawns at the parks once a week instead of every other week.
They also approved a 4 percent increase on the special taxes, which will help pay for community events and public safety, among other things. The board estimated each household would pay about an additional $50 in taxes with the increase.
Residents in Mountain House pay four special taxes each year, which contribute to community maintenance, roads and transportation, public safety, parks and recreation and public works. Voters approved the special taxes in a special election in December 2002.
The special tax marked for public safety helps pay for police and fire services in the community, and this year’s increase will help pay for an additional part-time sheriff’s sergeant in town. Mountain House contracts with the Tracy Rural Fire Department and the San Joaquin County Sheriffs Department for police and fire services.
Another special tax earmarked for recreation and community facilities will help pay for some of the expenses of the community events that serve as the centerpiece of social activities in Mountain House.
Bingo nights, a golf tournament and a ski trip will be on the calendar for next fiscal year, in addition to the concerts in the park and a beer and wine stroll.
Mountain House staple events — such as the annual kite festival, which will be Saturday, June 12, and the Fun Run — will still be paid for by the community services district, among several other events.
The board also approved $25,000 for the youth action committee, a group of Mountain House kids led by board member Tingle. The youth group plans to use the money to organize more events for kids in the community.
The board also voted to keep the Mountain House library open seven days a week, which will cost about $17,500. The library, which is now open three days a week for a weekly total of 15 hours, will be open seven days per week for a total of 35 hours a week. Looking at the future
The four-year budget projection presented Wednesday night estimates that both general revenues and expenses will continue to increase about $300,000 each year, and the cost for the water treatment plant will continue to decline every year.
The community services district essentially loans itself money from its general fund to pay the expenses of the water treatment plant in Mountain House.
When the water plant was built, it was anticipated that the cost would exceed the revenues until more houses are built in Mountain House and more residents contribute to the revenue stream, district manager Paul Sensibaugh said in an interview.
The cost to maintain the water treatment plant is expected to be about $4.5 million next year, which will be about $1.5 million short of the projected revenue for utilities.
The $1.5 million shortfall is included in the general fund budget for next fiscal year.
Giles estimated that in 2019, the revenues could catch up to the costs, and the district will no longer need to loan itself money to continue operating the plant. At that time, the money loaned to the utility fund will be reimbursed to the general fund and be used for expenses.
Su expressed concerns about the projection — which leaves the general fund balance at $230,000 in June 2014 — because the ending balance is so close to $0.
“The more you spend year one, the more you have to cut in future years if the projections (aren’t accurate),” Su said.
Lamb said the actuality of having a $0 balance in four years is unlikely, because every year the board reviews the projections and makes the necessary adjustments.
Sensibaugh was optimistic about the projection and said the district “came very close” to the projected numbers last year when the economy was also unpredictable.
The next Mountain House board of directors meeting will be a closed-door session on Monday, June 14, to discuss the general manager evaluation process.
• Contact reporter Jaclyn Hirsch at 830-4269 or email@example.com.