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New staff start at $15/hr; others receive raises
Following a heated debate between councilors and a 4-3 vote in favor of increasing new employee pay, Pearsall’s 2020-21 municipal fiscal budget remains in the red by $230,000.
The deficit comes after Councilor Roland Segovia made a motion to have all new city hires have their starting pay at $15 an hour and for those currently not making that hourly wage to be bumped up.
“I understand the concerns,” Segovia said in an August 26 meeting. “I have thoroughly gone through the budget and I strongly feel there’s enough room to give increases. Starting October 1, starting pay is fifteen dollars an hour.”
Segovia garnered the support of Councilors Abel Nieto, Sonia Hernandez and Richard Gandara; Councilors Davina Rodriguez, Brenda Trevino and Julian Hernandez voted against the pay increase.
Opposing councilors quizzed Segovia over where the money for the salary increases was coming from.
“I will get with the finance director and city manager because I am off by thirteen thousand dollars,” Segovia said.
Councilor Julian Hernandez said he believes employees deserve a salary increase, but said he is unsure whether the change is presently viable.
“I did make the statement, if we have money we could look at raising salaries,” the councilor said. “I do not see how any raises or extra personnel are feasible right now. We need to look at the long term and how are we going to fund these things. We are operating at bare bones.”
Records filed at City Hall show that 23 employees would be affected by the salary increase, creating a $229,000 budget deficit. A balanced budget had been approved prior to Segovia’s call for a special meeting on Aug. 26.
“The question now becomes what do we need to cut or increase to make up for that,” City Manager Fred Reyes said in an Aug. 31 meeting. “The staff has not made any modifications and we still have a deficit of two hundred and thirty thousand dollars.”
Reyes said state law and statutes have passed for a municipality to raise property taxes, indicating one way to generate revenue would be through raising utility rates.
“I called Mr. Snowden, and to increase revenue we would have to raise the water rates by an additional eight dollars,” the city manager said.
An eight-dollar increase to residents’ utility bills would make the average water portion $58.
“I voted against the pay raise,” Councilwoman Rodriguez said. “We were told several times we did not have the money in the budget. Second, they did not justify why the raising of starting salary.”
Rodriguez challenged the councilors who voted for the raise to explain what positions they were going to cut.
“I am not going to cut anyone’s positions,” Rodriguez said. “That should be on you all. You all should decide who you want to cut, if you want to raise the water, because we sat there and listened and knew we did not have the money.”
“For one it is already approved,” Councilor Sonia Hernandez said. “The votes were there and stuff; the money is there, I mean there has to be.”
According to Councilor Julian Hernandez, the council never held a meeting during budget season to make a decision that would affect the budget.
In doing so, councilors are only able to overturn the motion by a member who voted affirmatively to request the item be put back on the agenda.
Finance Director Santos Alarcon said the 2019-2020 budget had significant revenue shortfalls because of a decrease in sales tax revenue. The city received only $1.9 million of the projected $2.33 million in sales taxes.
“We have already cut over four hundred and eleven thousand dollars of the budget and most of that will be in the streets,” the finance director said. “You are going to be reallocating delegated funds and by March you will be over budget.”
“All the municipalities are hurting right now, that is why they are not spending the way we are,” Mayor Mary Moore said. “We just keep spending little by little and now we do not have a balanced budget.’
Councilors opposing the pay increase continued urging those in favor to place the item back on the agenda for reconsideration. Councilors Sonia Hernandez and Nieto were the only two in attendance for Monday night’s special meeting.
“I thought there was money in the budget,” Nieto said. “But from what Federico is saying, now I know. It is going to be hard to get the three signatures.”
A public hearing for the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, September 8.