When California City Public Works Director Jose Barragan presented his revised budget plan to the city council Tuesday night, July 23, he called it one of the most transparent presentations from his department in years.
The update was part of the city's ongoing discussions for the Fiscal Year 2021 budget.
He also noted that it was an example of what Councilmember Nick Lessenevitch referred to as “treading water.”
“That’s the vision and theme of the city with everything, ‘treading water,’” Barragan said. “In the past, I think they just took a budget and made some minor changes ... but a budget should be a tool.”
Barragan said he attempted to be as “bare bones” as he could with the budget, but stressed to the council expenses such as training employees are necessary. One example, he said, included hiring cannabis related-positions and “didn’t bother with training employees.”
He added he wants to bring accountability to his department, including all of its employees.
‘You’re going to come to work to earn a check,” Barragan said. “It works both ways because I want to be held accountable by my employees, council and public.”
Barragan later added his budget would include a fuel policy making it more difficult for employees to fill up -- in short, making employees going on assignments in a straight shot instead of driving all over town.
A corrected public works budget was set to be included in an upcoming meeting.
Barragan said changes will include lower water department revenues to reflect reduced water rates, as well as water line repair projects brought to council to be put out to bid. Funds for repair work would come from the water enterprise fund should council approve it.
Councilmember Nick Lessenevitch said the city must address not Transportation Development Act reimbursement money for past years.
“We can’t deliver a project but what we can do is look at the monies and make sure that they are there to develop a project,” Lessenevitch said.
Barragan said he has submitted TDA audits for fiscal years 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 to Kern Council of Governments to be forwarded to the state. Kern COG, the county’s main transportation board, handles allocation of federal and state funds to local projects.
“We anticipate getting $2.2 million this year that should go into the general fund,” he said.
Mayor Chuck McGuire shared his own thoughts on transparency related to public works.
“I understand you want accountability but when this council brought some things up to the city council about getting some things done ASAP,” McGuire said. One issue, he said, was center dividers like one leading west into town that needed to be repaired or cleared of dead vegetation.
“It hasn’t been cleaned and Mother Nature came in, killed the weeds off and still needs to be cleaned,” he said. He added the one on Hacienda near City Hall had “weeds growing out into the streets.
“Believe me, I want accountability and if someone can’t do their job, [it should be] ‘thank you for your service, goodbye,’” McGuire said. He also asked how difficult it could be to patch up some roads given the city has “a small steamroller” and called some roads “horrendous.”
When Barragan accepted fault for road repair and look into it, McGuire said no one “should take the hit for it” and that it should just be done. “It always seems to be that there seems to be more excuses on why we didn't do things than on why we just didn’t do it,” McGuire said.
“All this equipment we talk about, all the roads ... everything, that belongs to the taxpayers, not us, and they are the ones being nice enough to flip the bill so we can stop,” McGuire said.