The ability of the Santa Ana city manager to pay her office’s bills has been thrown into doubt, after City Council members deadlocked on a $450,000 mid-year transfer to cover bills related to the council’s ouster of former City Manager Raul Godinez.
The new city manager, Kristine Ridge, said her office doesn’t have enough money in its budget when accounting for the council-approved $400,000 severance payout to Godinez, plus leave pay owed to two of Godinez’ top deputies who left the city around the same time.
Ridge proposed moving money from other departments to cover the extra cost, a move that requires approval from two-thirds or five members of the City Council.
But the transfer has failed to get enough support, with the council Tuesday publicly deadlocking.
Four members supported the transfer, and the other two – Juan Villegas and Ceci Iglesias – voted “No,” without explaining their vote. They were the two no votes in February against $25 million in police raises they criticized as unsustainable, and have refused to change their votes to support a mid-year transfer to cover the raises.
Ridge said in a May 20 interview she could ask after July 1, when the new fiscal years starts, for the transfer to her office, but that she would like to do it before the current fiscal year ends.
The city owes accrued leave pay to two previous city manager employees – former Deputy City Manager Jorge Garcia and former Assistant to the City Manager Robert Cortez – who left the city within weeks of their boss’s ouster. Both were top officials under Godinez, who was pushed out of his role when new council members took office in December.
Godinez received a $400,000 severance agreement. After his departure, the City Council approved $25 million in raises for the city’s police officers over the next three years.
City staff originally estimated that the cost of the recent departures, plus Ridge’s hiring in March, would prompt her office to overrun its budget by $64,000. The gap could be filled, officials said, by drawing money from the city’s taxpayer general fund.
But three months later, city officials say the costs have racked up seven-fold their original estimate, and now exceed the City Manager’s Office budget by $450,000.
“When the new City Manager came on board, we were told we were going to be short $64,000 and there was gonna be a midyear budget request,” Villegas told Voice of OC in a phone interview Wednesday.
“Now they’re asking for an appropriation adjustment of $450,000.”
Iglesias also said in a Wednesday phone interview that the $450,000 seemed too large an increase from the initial $64,000 cost, which was an amount Iglesias considered at the time “something I can justify.”
A spokeswoman for the City Manager’s office, Daisy Perez, Wednesday did not have the reason for the increase in the needed appropriations.
The City Council has also been deadlocked on whether or not to cover a shortfall this fiscal year for the $25 million raise for police officers. Council members approved the raises in February but without the needed five-vote support to approve a mid-year budget increase to account for this year’s costs.
But Ridge has said staff believe there is no need to transfer money into the Police Department to cover the raises, because they’re reducing overtime, using other money sources to pay for some overtime, and are expecting savings elsewhere in the police budget from vacant positions and reduced liability costs.
Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda contributed to this story.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.