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New Mabton budget eliminates police chief's job

MABTON - The Mabton City Council finally adopted the city's 2009 budget last night, ending weeks of turmoil and speculation.

The meeting started last night with Mabton Mayor Velva Herrera presenting her 2009 proposed budget to the council, something that was not appreciated by some of the members.

"We appreciate the proposal but we have our own," Mabton Councilman Mario Martinez told Herrera.

"That's fine," responded the mayor.

The $2.7 million budget presented to the council by Martinez and Councilwoman Oping Hutson was quickly adopted even though there were some surprises in it.

In order to ensure the current expense fund would end 2009 with a positive balance Martinez made some budget proposals that were supported by all the council members. The biggest change in the budget from Herrera's draft was the elimination of any funding for Mabton's police chief. This move saved $25,000 from police salaries right off the top. Also different for 2009 will be the elimination of a student resource officer in the Mabton School District. Martinez said the school district will be looking to contract with a private group to fill this function.

After the meeting the mayor said the council effectively cut Mabton Police Chief Robert Perales out of a job.

"I knew they would retaliate against me," Perales said of the council.

He claimed some council members were unhappy because of his department having numerous contacts with members of the council and some of their family members due to criminal conduct. Perales refused to reveal any names of council members that might be targeting him.

"What it boils down to is that I was the strongest supporter of the mayor," he said.

The mayor agreed with that, stating that Perales had always supported her and backed her up. Perales said he had already contacted his union and that things were far from being over.

"The council has purposely manipulated the numbers on the budget to get rid of me," Perales claimed.

With the position of police chief basically eliminated, Martinez told the mayor that according to city ordinance she has to appoint a department head as a public safety administrator. She then needs to pick one of the three remaining officers left on the police force to be police chief of operations.

Herrera said this was something she was not prepared to do, noting that neither officer on the force has the qualifications to be police chief of operations. What is clear is that come Jan. 1, 2009, the city of Mabton will not have a chief of police.

With the elimination of the police chief position and other minor cuts in the current expense and cemetery funds the council was able to shave $62,000 off of projected 2009 expenses.

This still leaves the current expense and cemetery funds with a negative 2009 ending balance.

All told the city is expecting to take in $1,642,459 in revenue this year and is projecting $1,446,751 in expenses, leaving a net gain of $195,707 spread out through all of the funds.

The numbers are expected to change and council will make any amendments needed to the budget in January.

The cuts to the current expense fund, mainly the elimination of the police chief position, didn't sit well with some local residents in attendance last night. Some vocally questioned the reasoning and some were whispering words like 'blackmail' and 'set up' under their breaths.

One man asked Council members Shelly Mireles and Vera Zavala what they thought of it, especially since they hadn't spoke up during the meeting.

Both seemed surprised by being asked a question and Mireles responded by saying the cuts are what needs to be done.

Martinez was asked by the Daily Sun News if had a personal agenda against the chief and he said he didn't. According to him the cuts were about stopping the bleeding, financially speaking.

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