The City Council this evening adopted the 2011/12 budget proposed by City Manager Bill Rawlings by a unanimous vote.
The $31.4 million budget, which Mayor Wallace Edgerton described as "forward looking" and "very conservative", was introduced by Rawlings as designed to move Menifee towards the direction of economic growth by laying the groundwork that will attract new business.
Councilwoman Kuenzi explained, "You remember the visioning meetings we had a while back, where we discussed what we envisioned for Menifee in the future? Well, this is the first budget that actually moves us in that direction".
Rawlings spoke about the $10 to $11 million dollars of sales tax revenue that Menifee residents spends in other cities for dining and retail, and the need to keep that money here in the city. "If the city continues to grow with the housing projects that were previously approved by the County, we will add as much as 20,000 to 25,000 people. Menifee's current revenue stream does not allow us to grow our services."
The city manager went on to explain how this new budget will attract more shopping and dining to Menifee...
- The hiring of eight new city staff, including a new Economic Development Director and a new Finance Director. The new budget will cut several contractors currently working at City Hall, and replace them with permanent employees for the same amount, or possibly less. "We won't be hiring them all at once" Rawlings explained. "We will bring them in over the course of the year, and it's possible we may not need to hire all eight positions."
- Increased funding for the city's Economic Development Program. Last year's budget allocated $219,200, while this new budget allocates $983,993.
- The creation of a 25% reserve balance. The budget will adopt a new resolution (which the council passed under separate vote), that requires the City maintain cash reserves equal to 25% of the General Fund, to pay for unforeseen emergencies, and repayment of loans to the county.
- $4.3 million in new road improvement projects, including repairs and repaving on Newport Rd (between Haun Rd and Menifee Rd) as well as on Garbani Rd.
Councilman Tom Fuhrman took exception to a few points with the budget, citing the need to reexamine the City's employee retirement policy, suggesting it could stand to save more money if city swapped it out for the Social Security system that most private workers pay into.
Fuhrman also promised residents that he would make the budget "transparent", acknowledging the concerns of some residents that the city council ought to spend more time examining the budget before voting on it.
"This budget wants to hire a Business License Clerk for $48,000 a year salary, plus another $30,000 in administrative costs" Furhman explained after the meeting. "I'm not sure we can collect enough business license fees to pay for that position."
Right now, business licenses in Menifee are handled by the County of Riverside. "And the County keeps all that money!" Fuhrman continued. "In fact, I'm not even sure we need business licenses."
Fuhrman finished by saying he would do research on the new budget and air the details out to the public.
As for police and fire service, the new budget increases funds to $9.1 million and $6.9 million respectively, up from $8.9 million and $6.8 million in the previous budget.
In the end, the City Manager thanked the City Council for putting Menifee into a position of growth during a time when nearby cities are laying off staff to make ends meet.
"The decisions the City Council has made the past couple of years lead to a significant surplus that has accumulated." Rawlings explained. "And the council didn't deplete it on expenses that weren't immediately necessary".
Mayor Edgerton chimed in, "Menifee is not raising taxes. Menifee and its City Manager has given us a budget that will allow this city to grow."