Esther Kang

Manhattan Beach council passes budget, waits on new hires

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The Manhattan Beach City Council on Tuesday adopted a $60 million operating budget for the fiscal year 2014-2015 but left a few key decisions pending.

A divisive question surrounded proposed spending in human resources — pay raises, formal staff evaluations and new full-time positions — and whether the council should await direction from new city manager Mark Danaj, who begins his post July 7, prior to budgeting those items.

At its last meeting, the council moved to drop the proposed full-time positions for a graphic designer and city engineer from the budget, pending review from the future city manager. On Tuesday, Mayor Amy Howorth, who was absent during the June 3 discussion, questioned whether that followed the best practice.

“I’m not comfortable with waiting to see what the new manager will do — I just don’t think it’s a good way to plan financially, especially with the positions we know we need,” she said.

Turning a part-time graphic artist position into full-time will cost the city $14,600 annually. Hiring a full-time traffic engineer in lieu of a contractor will have a net cost of $25,372.

The motion Tuesday also called to appropriate funding for a full-time position for Dial-a-Ride driver replacing two part-time positions, but as with the graphic artist and traffic engineer posts, all action will be frozen until the new city manager reviews these decisions. The council earmarked the money, but against the mayor’s objections chose to wait for the actual budgeting.

Resident Gerry O’Connor pointed to escalating salary costs, which will account for $44.3 million of the city’s $60 million budget, and urged the council to conduct formal performance reviews annually of city employees. It’s good management practice, he said.

“A-plus students yearn for performance reviews,” O’Connor said. “It’s the C, D, F students that shy away from them.”

The budget includes an appropriation of $173,000 for pay raises, also to fall under the discretion of the new city manager.

Other additions to the final budget include a $20,000 appropriation to carry out a citywide smoke-free campaign; $150,000 for police overtime in special assignments, and $27,260 for the new city manager’s temporary housing and relocation costs.

The council took several measures to cut costs from the budget. Just two weeks after justifying $48,000 to place a referendum tightening term limits on the county ballot this November, the council on Tuesday directed staff to move the election to next March. Placing the ballot in the March election will have no additional cost to the city due to the scheduled council elections.

Council contingencies, which typically account for a half percent of general fund expenditures, was reduced from $300,000 to $100,000, which is last year’s amount. The proposed appropriation of $37,000 to hire a firm to provide state legislative advocacy services was also dropped from the final budget.

The council on Tuesday also appropriated $17 million for 36 capital improvement projects in the next fiscal year. The five-year capital improvement project plan includes 98 projects total, estimated at $107 million.

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