In a split decision, the Colusa City Council voted at their regular meeting on Aug. 18 to establish a new Economic Development, Communication, and Tourism Director, but at a far lower salary than was first proposed by the city manager in June.
Mayor Josh Hill, along with Councilmen Tom Reische and Brent Nobles, were in the majority to vote in favor of the new administrative position. Councilmen Greg Ponciano and Dave Markss cast dissenting votes, due to the current budget deficit.
City officials also agreed to fly the position to see just who and how many people are interested in the unique position, although the job was developed for the city’s current economic development consultant, Kristy Levings, of Golden Oaks Business Services.
The council also reduced the starting pay to $7,800 per month, a 13 percent reduction from the proposed $8,800, following a survey of the salaries of similar positions throughout California. By policy, adopted by the City Council earlier this month, the new director must also be selected following panel interviews, and will start only at Step 1 on the pay schedule, unless the council determines otherwise.
The establishment of the position had many people in the community divided on whether the city could afford to hire someone to advance economic development, host events, and promote tourism, particularly in the middle of a pandemic.
“This city does not have the budget to support a position such as this, with the annual rate of pay which has been suggested,” said Leslie Poland, of Colusa, in a written statement. “I realize the city needs a director in the area of economic development, to aid us in getting out of the budget crisis we have experienced in the past few years, but in this current time of economic insecurity, with the COVID pandemic, the timing is not right for adding this position.”
Hill thanked City Clerk Shelly Kittle and Attorney Ryan Jones for looking into the salaries of people who do similar work, which he said helped make the decision a little easier for him.
“Our pay scale (was) quite a bit different from all the jurisdictions that we looked at,” Hill said. “The other jurisdictions ranged from $72,684 to $75,000 in other city budgets for a similar position to this. I think the salary (was) just too high.”
Hill felt with the lower salary, the total cost would come under what the city is spending on consultants for a variety of services, including grant writing.
Additionally, the new director will perform other services to help Colusa move forward with its economic strategy, which includes the Pirelli project.
“Hopefully, if this position is created, they will take on all that other responsibility, so we would not be using a consultant anymore,” Hill said.
City officials also plan to give the director an 18-month probation period to prove the position would pay for itself, so as to avoid being on the hook for lifetime benefits.
The total pay for the first year will be about $118,000 with benefits, as opposed to $150,000 as first proposed. The salary would increase 5 percent a year until the director reaches Step 6.
Cain said while the proposed new salary is still higher than other jurisdictions, the Colusa position will be “three different jobs wrapped into one,” which is why the salary should be comparable to other department heads.
While all five council members agreed that Colusa must increase economic activity to thrive, Markss said he was concerned specifically about the current budget deficit.
“Grants are specific,” he said. “You just can’t put the money back into the general fund. It has to be project specific, so even though the position has to be funded out of the general fund, I don’t see how we change that imbalance so the general fund does not bear the burden.”
However, Cain believes the grants applied for already this year, and a couple that will be submitted in September, will have the funding to cover all administrative costs.
Ponciano’s argument against hiring another department head was that the grants the city has applied for and will apply for would also cover the administrative costs performed by current city staff, who could and should be performing the same services.
But Cain insists the position will prove itself by next July, and that having this position would greatly improve the quality of life for residents and businesses, who have called out in the past few months for more help from their local government.
“Our businesses need people to come here,” Cain said. “They want us to apply for grants and stuff. We basically took their feedback and tried to create a position that we can incorporate all of that. Colusa is unique; we do things a lot different here. We have to try and do something. We keep sitting here doing nothing. If we don’t start applying for (more) grants and try to change things around, in five years we can be hurting a lot worse than we are now.”
Other council members feared the city, without a ED director, would miss out on current opportunities, now that the state and federal government are providing more funding to combat the economic downturn from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The majority of the council believe a new director could apply for more grants than what the city manager, finance director, and city engineer are able to apply for and administer.
“I would like to see us move forward,” Reische said. “We do not have the personnel to write these grants.”
With a divided council, Mayor Hill had the deciding vote.
Hill said the city should not continually pay consultants to write grants, when they can have a multi-job position now at a lower cost.
And while members of the public remained divided on the issue, as well, Hill said he considered who in the community supported the position.
“I’m going to vote ‘Aye’ because Ed Hulbert has been thrown around quite a bit,” Hill said. “He has requested this, and the other support from the community who had their names brought up…they are asking for support in this.”
Hulbert is chief executive officer of Colusa Industrial Properties, to which the new director will be tasked with attracting new businesses. Other supporters are local businesses who would benefit from a marina and tourism, and residents who would like a bike path, pool splash pad, and a downtown community center.
Cain said only with economic development will Colusa generate enough sales and property taxes to provide residents with new attractions, streets, parks, events, and other amenities that will improve their quality of life. ♣