City council takes first step to raise taxes

Annexation, alleged city charter violations, a proposed city tax increase, the upcoming fiscal year budget and a possible investigation were some of the key items addressed during the close to five-hour Douglas City Council meeting that was held Wednesday, June 12 in the City Hall council chambers.

After some lengthy discussion the city council approved the tentative budget that included a one cent sales tax increase that would become effective October 1, 2019 should the ordinance authorizing it pass all three readings by the mayor and council.

The item passed the first reading and will now come back for a second reading on July 10 which will include a public hearing followed by the third reading at the August 14 city council meeting after which the taxes become effective 30 days later.

According to Luis Pedroza, Douglas’ finance director, the measure that was approved by the council will result in an additional $1,333,125 in sales/use tax revenue.

Pedroza said, “It was recommended to utilize $467,585 towards new capital items, $471,464 for funding of new positions, reclassifications and funding existing unfunded positions.”

He added, “$394,076 will be allocated towards employee compensation that included a two percent COLA (cost of living adjustments), new certification pay, bringing employees with salaries of 20 percent or more below market to within 20 percent, adding another step in longevity pay and shortening the gap between steps and funding for the minimum wage increase in January that includes also widening the gap between employees close to the minimum wage.”

The mayor and council also voted on four amendments to the recommended budget, of which two passed and two failed. The motions that failed were to keep the city attorney part time instead of full time and to remove funding for a School Resource Officer. The amendment to the budget that passed by a vote of 4-3 was to remove funding for a fulltime Tourism Specialist and in doing so keeps the position at halftime.

The second motion that passed was to add economic development functions to the deputy city manager position among other various departmental supervision as determined by administration and remove funding for the economic development director’s position once the deputy city manager position is filled.

“With these motions in place the city established a total spending ceiling of $40,601,910,” Pedroza said.

The mayor and council also agreed to double its bed tax from two to four percent which will affect all motels and hotels as well as assisted care facilities like the Haven of Douglas.

After the meeting Interim City Manager Jerene Watson sent out an email out to all city employees informing them what all had happened at the meeting in regards to the raises, etc. and asking them to “keep in mind, there is still a ways to go before all this is final. Nothing is official until the final vote of the city council.”

Annexation

Prior to the regular city council meeting a one-hour special informational meeting was held where Douglas Police Chief Kraig Fullen and Cochise County Planner Christine McLachlan proposed some annexation plans.

The annexation of Bay Acres, Pirtleville and the proposed Port of Entry site were the three areas being discussed.

During the regular meeting the mayor and council directed Chief Fullen and McLachlan to begin looking into possibility of annexing Bay Acres into the city limits followed by the proposed Port of Entry site and then Pirtleville.

It was noted at the meeting the city has adopted a general plan which establishes goals and objectives for future physical development of Douglas.

Chief Fullen emphasized this is still very early in the planning effort phase and nothing has yet to be finalized. The process is an eight-step process with step one being the preparing of a boundary map which will be followed by a requesting info period (which could take up to 60 days), the filing of the petition with the county recorders office which has a mandatory 30-day waiting period followed by two-separate public hearings in between which there is another 30-day waiting period.

Annexation benefits for the city will increase the City’s share of state sales tax, motor vehicle fuel tax, revenue sharing of state income tax. It also increases the assessed valuation of the city and will also allow for the collection of city sales tax from annexed parcels.

City charter violations / investigation

At the May 15 city council meeting Douglas resident Tanya Duarte presented a written petition regarding allegations of several City Charter violations against Mayor Robert Uribe.

The purported violations allegedly occurred between November 2018 through January 2019 and deal with how former city manager Jim Russell was removed from his job.

Since he is named in the allegation, Mayor Uribe recused himself from the meeting when this item came up after which Mayor Pro-Tempore Mitch Lindemann took over.

After some discussion at the June meeting the council unanimously agreed to acknowledge receipt of Duarte’s petition and to send a copy of the letter to the Attorney General seeking an opinion on the merits of the claim.

On a separate agenda item of which the mayor was a part of, the mayor and council unanimously agreed to have either a state or county law enforcement agency look into allegation of inappropriate disclosure of potentially privileged communications or leakage of personnel files by elected officials or city personnel and to produce a report on the matter to the city council at a future meeting.

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