Members of the council and the city manager went back and forth on Tuesday, but could not come to a consensus on the property tax rate or the budget for the next fiscal year.
This Tues. Sept. 17, the Edinburg City Council held a regular called meeting at city hall. All council members and the mayor were present, except council member Jorge Salinas.
One of the items regarding the budget had to do with an amendment of the code of ordinances for the city of Edinburg, in which the city would include a 2 percent increased adjustment for the non-civil service compensation plan, and a 3 percent pay plan adjustment for civil service employees. Belinda Torres, the director of human resources and civil service director, presented on the item.
Council member Gilbert Enriquez had several questions for Torres and City Manager Juan Guerra about how the adjustments in compensation were determined and how employees were ranked within compensation ranges (entry level, middle level and high). Enriquez asked if it was determined by years served with Edinburg, or by Guerra’s discretion.
“There’s really no concrete rules that govern one level to another level from entry to middle to high,” Guerra responded. “It’s really based off of experience and productivity based on the assumptions of the city manager.”
Enriquez then asked if Guerra ever considered basing those scales on the number of years an employee has worked with the city. Guerra said that it was one option, but from his experience the number of years someone is employed in any organization “does not equate to productivity or effectiveness.”
“The intention is well by putting years in stipulation, but there are some employees who come in and in the first two, three years are doing excellent work, versus an employee who has been here a while and does the minimum,” Guerra said. “It’s a matter of theory, I guess.”
Enriquez said productivity can be arbitrary, and asked Guerra how it was determined. Guerra responded by saying it was gauged based on the effectiveness of their department, and stated that they were aiming to hire a performance management analyst in the near future who would develop benchmarks and performance measures for the city.
“So you’re saying right now you’re basing it on opinion?” Enriquez clarified. Guerra said yes, most of the decisions are based on his opinion on their productivity and effectiveness.
Enriquez said he was questioning this part of the item because one of the pay grades for an employee was changed more than one level, so he wanted to clarify why that was the case. He added that he hoped Guerra would consider other options in determining the pay for those individuals.
“A lot of what you just said is subjective,” Enriquez said. “And it’s not fair to the person that’s working if they’re not given a corrective plan of action.”
Enriquez continued to say that if an employee who has been there for years is getting complacent as Guerra said, they need to be given an opportunity to come in and re-evaluate their performance so they can receive a higher wage.
Enriquez then asked why certain entry level positions were receiving increased wages, but wages for employees working for the city for four or more years was being decreased. Guerra answered, saying that the city was hoping to implement those increased wages for young people working in part-time, seasonal positions in order to remain competitive with neighboring cities hiring the same positions.
Enriquez continued to ask why none of these figures were included in the budget workshop presentation he was sent on Friday of last week. He stated that he did not attend the workshop, but received the presentation and only comparisons from last year to this year were presented, not the specific pay scale numbers he was just seeing prior to the city council meeting.
Guerra said any specific questions could have been asked during the budget workshop, and not all figures are possible to get at the workshop. He added that most cities conduct budget workshops once in the same manner.
At one point in the discussion, Mayor Richard Molina asked Enriquez how he attempted to correspond with Guerra on questions and figures from the budget workshop. Enriquez said he sent multiple emails, and received the presentation at the same time he did, on Friday.
Ultimately, when council voted on the pay plan adjustments, the item was passed as presented. Molina, Mayor Pro-Tem David Torres and council member Homer Jasso, Jr. voted in favor of the plan, while Enriquez voted against it.
The city of Edinburg was also planning on raising their property tax rate to 0.6850 per $100 evaluation (effectively a 9.4 percent increase), but Enriquez had more questions about if any attempts were made to lower the Maintenance and Operation costs and rate.
Guerra said they looked at several possibilities, and noted that he was a fiscal conservative, but in order to help the city of Edinburg grow further, this year they need more funds to implement that growth.
“The city has been acting as if it’s been broke for quite a while, to the point where in this past budget it reduced a lot of things that we had to fix,” Guerra said. “There’s nothing wrong with that [acting as if the city is broke], it’s just a different philosophy. Right now, the city is in growth mode and is expected to do a lot of things and provide a lot of services.”
When the item came up for a vote, Torres and Molina made a motion in favor of the tax rate as presented, but Enriquez and Jasso voted against it. Leaving the item in a tie, neither the tax rate or the 2019-2020 budget were approved.
During executive session, the council, city manager and city attorney discussed the employment of City Secretary Ludivina Leal. Leal was arrested in connection to the investigation of the 2017 Edinburg mayoral election.
Leal was accused of allowing a Mission resident to use her address to illegally vote in the 2017 election. Mayor Richard Molina, the center of this investigation, has pled not guilty to the voter fraud charges against him.
Before voting on the item back in open session, Enriquez asked City Attorney Omar Ochoa if Mayor Richard Molina should abstain from the vote, implying there may be a conflict of interest.
“No, I don’t believe that the mayor needs to abstain from this vote,” Ochoa said.
The final vote was once again a draw, with Enriquez and Jasso voting to remove Leal from the position and hire Tim Serna (the administrative assistant for the city secretary’s office) as the interim, and David Torres and Molina voting against that motion. Because of the draw, the motion died and Leal remains city secretary.
This article originally appeared in the Friday Sept. 20, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.