RIPON — The City of Ripon remained solvent through The Great Recession thanks to the cooperation of city staffers who bit the proverbial bullet by taking compensation cuts to steer the city away from possible bankruptcy.
Now the salaries of city workers are being restored to their level of pay in 2009.
City Administrator Leon Compton said staffers were promised by the city council that cuts would only last as long as was necessary.
“We are keeping our promise,” Compton said. “But it is only for a year until we see how things go.”
Compton remarked that the financial picture is looking good for the city with $3.8 million in the general fund at the beginning of the fiscal year that started July 1. He pointed out that the city hasn’t spent anything on capital improvements or equipment such as new police cars or lawn mowers for the Parks Department, or office equipment since 2008 even though much needs upgrading.
“We are on the right track and I feel comfortable with that and the fact we are building our reserves. We cut back on everything and now our revenues are starting to come back up,” Compton said.
The decision to restore salaries will cost $220,000 this fiscal year.
“Fuel prices won’t go below $3.50 a gallon,” Compton said, “and that gives us good sales tax revenue.” He added that the new Arco station and convenience store that is nearing completion just off Highway 99 near Save Mart will undoubtedly add more to the general fund.
City Clerk Lynette Van Laar recalled that 13 people either took early retirement or had to be laid off in the crunch. It was similar to a “golden handshake” where they got six months pay that helped both the city and the employees. Compton added that the city is down about 16 employees with only 80 on the job today. The police officers currently being hired are only replacements, he said.
All city departments were involved in the cuts from engineering to building, police, finance and public works, she said. Sharon DeSelle was one she singled out who had retired from her billing duties in the Finance Department and who had also filled in for the police department.
Compton said the budgetary goal is to always start the fiscal year with at least $3 million July 1 knowing they are going to bring in more in the second six months of the year.
The city gets some “big time” money during the second half of each fiscal year with the sales tax and other in-lieu monies from the state coming in two payments in about February and June.
“So if we had dropped below $3 million in the first six months because we know in the next six months that we’ll get the motor vehicle in-lieu fees, the sales tax in-lieu fees, and the property taxes. You get the franchise fees as well – there is a whole lot that comes in.
“I like to start the year off with $3 million or more – so we started this year off with some $3.8 million. That’s pretty good – we wound up doing better than we had expected,” he said. “We had actually ended up with $375,000 in revenue above expenses.”
He said the one thing that he cautions employees – especially the bargaining units – was not to spend money on things like police car replacements, copy machines and other large ticket items that are going to have to be replaced despite the fact they are wearing out.
“Even though the current picture is good, it’s not as good as I would like it to be because I know we’ve got things that need to be fixed and replaced eventually,” he noted. “We have certainly hit bottom and we are on our way back up and building the reserves.”
Compton said the city has cut back on conferences and subscriptions to publications.
“You just name it, we have cut back on it. So there have been a lot of savings here,” he stressed.
The city administrator said he is not concerned about the line-by-line expenditures of the various departments – he’s a “bottom line” type of administrator.
“When I get to the bottom line down here and you add them all up, that’s where it matters. Know what your job is and get your job done and I will leave you alone,” he quipped. “I’ve been on the other side and I know what it is like. But, as I said, people will work harder for you if you give them the authority and the responsibility to do their job and hold them accountable – they don’t mind being held accountable.”