During the first of a series of budget hearings, council members on Wednesday evening took apart the $2.8 million finance department budget in search of savings in every nook and cranny.
The council began with a discussion on what to do with the director of finance position. Prior to the administration of Jose “Joey” Torres, Anthony Zambrano, straddled two directorships: director of finance and director of accounts and control. Zambrano was originally director of accounts and control, but he was promoted to acting finance director some years ago.
Holding the two titles Zambrano earned approximately $133,000. With Zambrano out of the picture the city is attempting to restore the two positions. “We’d like to make sure we put in a director of finance and a director of accounts and control,” said business administrator Nellie Pou.
The Torres administration wants to set salary for the finance director at $130,000 and accounts and control director to $82,000. “I’m recommending the salary for the director be reduced to $120,000,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large.
Pou said it would be difficult to recruit a competent finance director at that salary. She said the city would be lucky if it manages to find a qualified finance director for $130,000.
Council members reduced the finance director’s office expenses by approximately $15,000 which included the salary reduction for the position as well as cuts in office supplies, printing, and advertising. Members of the governing body compared amount expended in the previous fiscal year to determine whether a cut was appropriate for an item. For example, in fiscal year 2014, the city budgeted $2,135 in overtime for the finance director, but only $236 was used – the council reduced that item to $1,000.
A number of divisions under the department exceeded their budgeted amount for overtime. “I’m seeing instances where overtime was budgeted and the expenditure for that overtime is going over,” said Morris, chairman of the council’s finance committee. “Folks just think it’s okay to exceed their budgets on certain line items.”
Morris suggested next time whenever a division or department exceeds its budgeted overtime amount the council will reduce that exact percentage from their overtime budget. The treasury division went over its overtime by 1.5-percent. The budgeted amount was $26,070 in fiscal year 2014, but the division expended $28,072.
The tax collector’s division spent $80,071 in overtime while only $54,867 was budgeted during fiscal year 2014. “This office is out of control,” commented McKoy. The councilman, who called for an audit of the division, said he has been informed employees at the division rack up overtime while working from home.
“Overtime is a symptom that a department is not properly sized or properly organized,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman.
“Whatever percentage they’ve gone over, we’re going to reduce that budgeted amount by that percentage,” said Morris. “We have got to communicate to these departments that you got an overtime budget, stay within that budget.”
Morris suggested reducing treasury’s overtime by $16,000. While finding savings in the departmental budget, Julio Tavarez, 3rd Ward councilman, found some of the positions which listed one or two employees were inaccurate. In the sewer division four positions were budgeted, but only three people held positions.
The division, according to the departmental budget document, showed one actual customer service representative for fiscal year 2014; however, two positions were budgeted for. “There was always two,” answered Pou talking about the two customer service representative. Budget officer Russell Forenza said sometimes employees are transferred from one department to another increasing the count of actual employees. “That person wasn’t there in 2014, she was transferred there in” fiscal year 2015, in June, said Pou.
McKoy located a position titled “business manager” within the tax assessor’s office accounting for $90,684. The councilman sought a description of what the individual holding the position did. “He was transferred from the public library staff to that particular office,” said Pou. She said he came with a high salary.
“This manager position is not the right title for that office, but that’s the title he was carried over with when he was working at the library,” said Pou. McKoy asked what sorts of tasks he does at the city.
“He’s now doing field work,” responded Pou. “They have him going outside, taking photographs, doing investigations.”
Morris asked what he did at the library, the business administrator said he handled financial reports.
Tavarez wanted to eliminate that position; however, Pou said it would be difficult for the city to get rid of the employee, for he is protected under Civil Service and has collective bargaining rights being member of a union.
“Someone taking pictures for $90,000 a year,” added Tavarez. The councilman said someone being paid $30,000 can handle taking pictures for the tax assessor.
Morris said the city needs to figure out a way to utilize the business manager’s skills. If he is certified by civil service than he clearly has skills that may come in handy in the finance department, said Morris.
In another division of the department, the internal audit division, council members suggested changing the title of the highest ranking position in the department to supervisory auditor with one internal auditor being supervised. The administration recommended a salary of $63,000; however, McKoy, who is an auditor by trade said the city would not be able to find a skilled auditor with such an amount. Council members settled on a $70,000 salary.
The council also attempted to cut the salary of internal auditor title from $45,000 to $40,000. Pou alluding to the recent hire of Lydia Robles, objected saying that could not be done, for it is an active position already filled.
In a meeting that lasted almost four hours, during which council members scanned through every single item on the department’s budget, the council shaved off $130,000 from the finance department’s budget.