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Hughson city budget behind schedule

POSTED July 13, 2010 10:10 p.m.

A slow-starting audit, low staffing in Hughson City Hall and the recent mayhem that took over the City of Hughson is to blame for the late city budget, said Debbie Paul, director of finance for the City of Hughson.

“This place was upside down,” Paul said.

Budgets are typically approved in June with the fiscal year starting on July 1 and running through June 30. The 2010/2011 city budget is expected to be finished between September and October according to a budget timeline that was approved by the City Council at Monday’s meeting.

Out of the last five years, this is the second time the budget has been behind schedule, Paul said. A handful of problems have been contributed to the slow-starting budget process.

The problems began with a slow start to the audit process, she said. The audit usually starts in June but this year the audit started on Nov. 30.

The reason the audit started so late was because the auditors were contacted later than usual with a slew of claims that took over City Hall. The claims were related to workers compensation, sexual harassment, hostile work environment and the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury report that was released in December 2009, Paul said.

With all the claims and employees gone on workers compensation leave, the work seemed to pile on desks as many employees took on different hats.

“It is hard to ride three horses with one saddle,” she said. “There aren’t enough bodies to go around to do all the work. There is low staffing and a lot of turnover.”

Now the audit process is coming to an end but it has taken longer than usual. A handful of lawsuits currently against the city, the high number of claims filed and the Civil Grand Jury findings have all played a part in bogging down the process, Paul said.

The auditors just released the financial statements leaving the rest up to the Hughson Financial Department for comments, she said.

The next step is for the finance department to issue budget worksheets to the department heads. The department heads will then have one week to return the worksheets, according to the budget timeline.

Departmental requests will then be entered by the finance department giving Paul and Interim City Manager Thom Clark about two weeks to meet and make adjustments to develop a draft for the budget.

Labor union negotiations are expected to take the most time, from two to four weeks, Paul said.

“It is the biggest portion that we have the least control over,” she said.

Paul isn’t expecting there to be any problems with the union because the city has not conducted any layoffs or furloughs.

Last year the state took $300,000 from the City of Hughson budget and Paul isn’t expecting any additional cutbacks after looking at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May revise, she said.

“Our goal is to come out with a balanced budget,” Paul said. “We are in a little bit better shape than the surrounding communities.”

Currently, the City of Hughson is continuing to use funds from last year’s budget, she said.

To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail mmartens@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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