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City council asks employees to clean house

MABTON - In a budget belt-tightening move, the Mabton City Council last night recommended having library and city hall employees perform janitorial services in their respective work areas.

The move came during a budget study session Thursday night. No formal action was taken, but council indicated its wishes for the 2010 budget in preparation for a budget hearing next Tuesday.

Having employees maintain their buildings will save the city around $5,500 a year in janitorial expenses. Council indicated it would have the carpet at city hall professionally shampooed twice a year to help with upkeep.

In other budget talks, council gave the initial thumbs up to spend $4,000 for wood flooring at the civic center, formerly known as the community center. The upgrade is also expected to make the building more attractive for event rentals.

The proposed general fund budget, which covers day-to-day costs of running the city, would have an ending balance at the end of 2010 of just under $18,000.

City Clerk Ret Stewart said that's cutting things too close and again encouraged council to consider reducing a proposed 5 percent utility tax reduction to perhaps 2 or 3 percent to allow for more wiggle room.

She said such a low amount to end the year with is "not being fiscally responsible."

At its previous budget meeting council was unanimous in cutting utility taxes by 5 percent to lessen the burden on citizens who two years ago saw their water/sewer utility tax spike from 6 percent to 25 percent.

Council members Mario Morales, Sophie Sotelo and Oping Hutson last night held the line at 5 percent.

Morales acknowledged the 5 percent cutback would be "making it tight" for Mabton in a budget year that calls for staffing three police officers.

"That's making it past tight," Stewart countered. "It's making it impossible."

There appeared to be some willingness to negotiation the utility tax discount as Councilwoman Vera Zavala suggested she would like to talk about a 3 percent reduction in the tax.

With a 3 percent reduction in utility taxes, the city would hold on to an additional $13,000 per year compared to a 5 percent reduction.

Council remained unanimous, though, in recommending a $10 late fee on water/sewer bills paid after the 15th of the month. The move is expected to generate $25,000 a year for the city coffers.

Council also discussed hiring a permanent city clerk/treasurer. Stewart has been serving in that capacity on an interim contract basis at 30 hours per week.

The city clerk position is budgeted to earn $3,142 per month in 2010.

Stewart provided figures showing what Wapato, Naches, Moxee, Granger and Zillah pay their city clerks. The survey reflected that Mabton pays about $1,000 less per month than the averages of those cities. Salaries ranged from $3,950 a month for the Naches city clerk to $4,900 a month for Zillah's city clerk.

Stewart encouraged council to raise the pay to help draw a better pool of candidates.

"I pray for you to find someone at that amount," she said of the current salary offered.

Morales sided with Stewart, noting that without a city administrator the city clerk essentially fulfills some of those responsibilities.

Stewart praised council for the job it's done in working through the 2010 budget and getting the city's finances back on track.

She added a note of concern about the city's fiscal future.

"Whatever you say to do is what I'll do," she said of finalizing the 2010 budget. "But I'm worried about you."

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