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Mabton puts immediate halt to spending

MABTON - Mabton Mayor Velva Herrera issued a memo to city staff last Wednesday ordering an immediate spending freeze, city council members learned at the regularly scheduled meeting last night, Tuesday.

"There will be no more spending," she stated in her memo. "Purchase orders will not be approved unless it is an emergency."

Herrera noted the 2009 budget planning process is less than a month away and the city has no idea what financial condition it's in. "...With the spending, we will never get to an end (balance) to get to a beginning balance."

She also warned staff that if there was additional spending, city staff would have to foot the bill.

At the last regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 12, Councilman Mario Martinez noted that the last balanced statement available was as of March 2008, which shows a general fund balance of $31,000; there were no changes as of last night's meeting.

The city was warned about this in December and January by interim city treasurer Ret Stewart. On Jan. 22, council received a request from Police Chief Robert Perales to move to full-time at a cost of $675 to the city and to add a part-time reserve officer for 16 hours a week due to what he described as a law enforcement crisis. At that meeting, he told council there was no police coverage Thursdays through Mondays. He asked that the $500 the city had budgeted to pay Granger for the swap of goods and services regarding Perales be used to pay him. In response, Stewart warned, "You guys have no dollars to be doing a budget amendment."

Despite the warning, council approved that additional monies be spent on law enforcement until a special meeting was held several days later.

In February, council received more financial requests that were outside of the 2008 budget.

One was a $10,000 request from Prosser Memorial Hospital for ambulance services, later approved but with a payment plan of $3,333 over the course of three years. Fire Chief Luke Cussins asked council in a memo that EMS levy funds not be used for the payment, leaving council members wondering where to draw money from.

Councilwoman Oping Hutson then asked City Clerk/Treasurer Kitty Curtiss if revenues from this year's utility tax increases on water/sewer/garbage have been moved to the general fund yet. Curtiss said no, and Hutson suggested that funds be moved and the ambulance service payment be made from that.

The other was a $19,000 request from the Yakima Valley Conference of Governments to complete the city's comprehensive plan, later approved after it was reduced to about $12,000.

In March, the city received a $19,000 invoice for work done in 2008 to a city well. The work had been done in the spring of 2007, but the company didn't invoice the city until March 2008.

At Tuesday night's meeting, Perales asked council to approve an expenditure of almost $1,000 for ammunition for police officer certification. When asked if it was included in the 2008 budget, he responded, "I'm sure it's within the budget."

Later, Martinez asked Perales how much the city received in the law and justice tax for 2007, how much was projected to be received in 2008 and what the Mabton Police Department's plans were for that money this year. Perales responded that he would bring answers to those questions at the next regularly scheduled council meeting.

Perales did say that the city had to exceed its budgeted amount for the police department in order for use of the law and justice tax monies to be considered used properly. He said the tax monies could not be used to supplant the existing police services.

To further complicate things, Herrera told council at the end of the meeting that she received some invoices for the city owned building that housed the alternative high school in Mabton. The school district leased the building from the city, but the district opted to close it and integrate the students into Mabton High School.

Herrera told council that Superintendent Sandra Pasiero-Davis gave her a gas bill for more than $800 and a water/sewer/garbage bill for more than $100.

This perplexed council members, because gas is used for heating. According to the invoice, the gas tank was filled on Aug. 18.

What also perplexed council is the fact that the school district has not relinquished the building back to the city. Martinez and other council members questioned whether or not the city is responsible for the bills since they were incurred while the district leased the building.

Herrera said she would look into it.

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