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Mabton catches up on budget numbers

MABTON - A project five months in the making, the city of Mabton is now fully caught up on its books for the years 2008 and 2009.

The Mabton City Council learned the news this past Monday night, during its final meeting of 2009.

The city hired Ret Stewart as an interim clerk/treasurer in July to wrap up the books for 2008 and to start from scratch on entering budget data for 2009, which had been accidentally deleted.

Up to this point, council had been working on a budget for 2010 without knowing the full numbers for 2009.

That changed Monday night, as council approved a general fund, or current expense fund, budget of $624,605 for 2010. The total in 2010 for all funds, including water/sewer ($497,562) and garbage ($136,266) is set for $1.35 million.

Prior to approval of the budget, council learned that Mabton will enter 2010 with beginning cash on hand of $146,482 in the current expense fund and $1.47 million overall.

Given Mabton's tight budget, the city enters the new year with a healthy amount in reserves.

Stewart said she knew the city would be fine with its cash on hand, but it was just a matter of finding out what the figure would be.

The number crunching included some late hours, as Stewart worked 25 hours between this past Sunday and Monday to get the city caught up on 2009.

The hours were above and beyond the 30 hours she is contracted to work each week. The extra hours were worked without prior approval by council.

Stewart says the key to Mabton getting back on track fiscally was the decision to raise utility taxes from 6 to 25 percent back in 2008.

She added that council has done a good job of keeping a tight rein on spending.

"They've lived very sparsely," Stewart said.

The budget approved Monday evening calls for the utility tax to be reduced by 5 percent, a reflection of council's feeling that the city is in better shape financially.

Also included in the 2010 budget is the addition of two police officers and a $10 late fee assessed on water/sewer payments made after the 20th of each month.

In related news, council agreed to retain Stewart and interim city attorney Phil Lamb through March 2010 until permanent replacements can be hired.

During that discussion, Councilman Mario Martinez said Stewart's contract next year should reflect a full 40-hour work week, instead of the 30-hour week under the 2009 contract.

The discussion began when Lamb said he was remiss in not seeking a 40-hour week for Stewart earlier in the year.

Martinez noted that although the 2008 and 2009 budget numbers are caught up, there's still much work to be done to get the city up to speed with the IRS and other agencies.

"We don't want to hold back the momentum we have now," he said.

Councilwoman Sophia Sotelo countered that Stewart's contract should continue at 30 hours per week, noting the hourly wage of $40.

Stewart said the city will pay that wage to whomever they hire to be the permanent clerk when benefits and insurance are figured in. Stewart's contract does not include benefits, insurance or paid holidays.

Stewart concluded, "I'm not going to justify my work. My work justifies itself."

Council's vote on the 40-hour a week compensation was 3-to-2 in favor, with mayor elect Angel Reyna, Martinez and Councilwoman Vera Zavala voting yes.

Zavala's vote was contingent on the city reconsidering the matter at a later date.

Sotelo and Councilwoman Oping Hutson cast the no votes.

At its first meeting of 2010, the Mabton City Council will consider paying Stewart for the additional hours she worked this week to get the city's books caught up for 2009.

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