The Colusa City Council has continued to delay filling three positions the city had previously authorized and funded when they approved the 2020-21 budget: Finance Analyst, Utilities Superintendent, and Building Code Enforcement Technician.
The three positions together come with an annual price tag of approximately $227,000, officials said, an amount now directed toward economic development and tourism.
City Manager Jesse Cain recommended the city not fill the finance analyst position until new Finance Director Ishrat Aziz-Khan had the opportunity to work with current city staff to see if the duties could be done “in-house,” especially since the COVID-19 pandemic greatly reduced the workload at city offices.
“With everything that is going on at City Hall right now, I don’t think (the Finance Analyst) is a position we need right now,” Cain said. “That is not to say that we might not need it in six months.”
The City Council also postponed hiring a Utilities Superintendent until Cain can train his current wastewater treatment staff to qualify for the position.
Until then, Cain, who is also the Chief Plant Operator, will continue with those duties.
“I’m still willing and capable of doing that,” Cain said.
The City Council, at its Feb. 19 meeting, also voted 4-1 to lower the state licensing requirements from Grade 3 to Grade 2 for their lead wastewater treatment plant operator, Jeremy Cain, to match the credentials that are currently required by the state for that position.
California laws and regulations governing the certification of water treatment operators have been in force since the 1970s, although Fall 2020 and now Spring 2021 in-person testing was canceled by the state due to the coronavirus pandemic. The City of Colusa currently requires a Grade 3 credential for lead operator, which the younger Cain does not possess, but is close to achieving if the state resumes testing, officials said.
City Manager Cain said the only reason the city required the higher credential for lead operator, in the first place, was because the job was written for him when he was hired to the position.
The younger Cain is one of the two plant operators in the process of securing a Grade 3 credential, and wants the opportunity to apply for the superintendent position.
“I would love to see one of our two guys get that position,” said City Councilman Daniel Vaca.
Vaca made the motion to lower the city’s requirement for lead operators to match the state’s requirement, also as a recruitment and retention tool for future city employees, who make less than their counterparts in larger jurisdictions.
Councilman Greg Ponciano didn’t disagree with “lowering the bar” but felt the salary should also be lowered to match the requirements for the lead position. He also felt the city should not hold funded positions open until people currently on staff qualify.
Although Mayor Josh Hill ultimately voted with the majority for lowering the Grade 3 requirement and allowing the lead operator to keep the $6,000 a year pay raise granted to him by his father, Hill did voice some concern that the salary no longer matched the job description.
“I think it is important to be in line with the state, but I don’t know why we pay people extra,” Hill said. “I don’t think our taxpayers want us to pay people above the state requirement.”
And while the City of Colusa addressed its rather unscrupulous history of nepotism with a new policy in August that deals with hiring, promoting, supervising, and compensating relatives, the policy does not extend to current supervisor-subordinate positions.
The policy does, however, prevent current bosses from being involved in performance evaluations, transfers, promotions, and salary increases of their relatives going forward.
While the City Council, in general, desires advancement opportunities for current staff, they did say they would “fly” the superintendent position to the general public when they decide to move forward.
As for the Building Code Enforcement position, the City Council agreed that additional help was needed in that area, but that further evaluation was warranted. The previous position was split between the Police Department and City Hall, officials said.
“It’s one of those things that is not a mandatory position,” said Cain, who is in no hurry to fill the position until the pandemic is over. “It’s not something that you have to have.”
Although Cain said COVID was the reason the position, like the others, has “set out” since it was budgeted in August, the City Council generally agreed, after some discussion, that code enforcement was needed – with duties also spread to the Fire Department to help with weed, rubbish, and debris enforcement.
“Code enforcement is pretty broad,” said Fire Chief Logan Conley. “But if you can keep the job description to the basics of code enforcement, that person will never be bored, especially if we continue to develop our downtown, make it more beautiful, and keep our properties cleaner. You’re always going to have those problem spots where people aren’t maintaining the property or there are safety issues.”
Hill appointed Ponciano and Vaca to an ad hoc committee to develop a new code enforcement job description that combines law enforcement duties (abandoned vehicles), fire department duties (weed, rubbish, and debris), and building code enforcement (occupancy inspections).