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Colusa slowing economic development decisions

The Colusa City Council has postponed discussion to make the city’s current economic development consultant a full-time employee with salary, benefits, and pension contributions that equal about $150,000 a year.

Colusa Mayor Josh Hill pulled the item from last week’s agenda to give the council more time to go over the current city budget, which anticipates about a $493,000 deficit, as well as time to find a venue where the public can participate in the discussion.

Hill said not only is there a lot to digest in the budget, City Hall is again shut down because of a surge in local COVID-19 cases.

“I want to give the public adequate time and a safe place to make public comment,” Hill said.

Former Mayor Greg Ponciano said the council’s decision to discuss establishing the position of “Economic Development, Communications and Tourism Director” and authorize City Manager Jesse Cain to hire Kristy Levings for the position, in lieu of open recruitment, before the council defines their economic goals would be a mistake.

The City Council is expected to discuss economic development at their next meeting, and possibly revisit establishing the position. Hill has not ruled out an outdoor meeting.

The posting of the agenda item the Friday before’s the council’s July 7 scheduled Zoom meeting took Ponciano by surprise, especially after he raised the issue at the June meeting that the council had never discussed the concept of economic development before the public. He said it appears that discussions and decisions are happening too often inside the city manager’s office and not in open meetings of the public – where they belong.

Ponciano said he was also concerned about spending taxpayer money on uncertain economic development activities, given Colusa’s past history with consultants who produced no results. The city just paid off a $240,000 debt for economic development activities from a decade ago, and Ponciano said he hates to see the city take the same path.

Although last week’s meeting was closed to the public, several Colusa residents submitted written comments, both for and against establishing the position.

Most were against sidestepping the recruitment process or adding new positions in an economic crisis. The new position has a starting salary of $8,800 a month plus the perks, which is higher than the starting salary of the chief of police and fire chief, according to the pay schedule, and the equivalent of two full-time police officers. The job would top out at about $12,000 a month in six years plus cost of living increases as authorized. The job would also pay more than a near-identical position with the state, which starts at $6,124 a month.

“Clearly the City of Colusa is in financial distress,” wrote Frances Austin. “It is my understanding a job description has not been established, it is not open recruitment, and the wages offered are in excess of the standards set for other administrative positions. In a time where current positions are not being filled, this addition seems excessive. I agree the city needs grant monies, I would think we could readdress this issue later in the year.”

Others suggested that the Woodland resident stay on as a consultant, but were not in favor of making the position permanent. The City Council is currently paying Levings, of Golden Oaks Consulting, $6,800 for economic development services related to converting Pirelli Cable into a bio industry hub, and a one-time payout of 15,000 for a Needs Assessment Report. The city also paid $7,000 to Levings to write two grants.

Others supported establishing the full-time position, largely for grant writing purposes and for planning large festivals and events that would encourage tourism.

“Colusa is a prime candidate to take advantage of grant money, and having someone devoted to that issue could help us jump ahead of other communities that face similar circumstances,” wrote Luke Steidlmayer. 

The city manager also believes it is time for Colusa to tackle economic development, and believes the city needs someone like Levings to help local businesses and the community thrive.

“This action and expense are not taken lightly and there is a lot of work ahead of us, and we need the whole community behind us to make it work,” Cain said.

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