Atwater City Council meetings will be held once a month in an effort to cut costs, a divided council decided Monday night.
The council also wrestled with establishing a selection process for the city’s appointment to the Merced County Mosquito Abatement District Board. The position was filled for the past 13 years by a man who doesn’t live within the Atwater city limit, a potential violation of the state Health and Safety Code.
On a 3-2 vote, the council adopted an ordinance that slashed the number of council meetings from two per month to one, beginning in October until May. The new ordinance also dissolved three city commissions: parks and recreation, planning and traffic, combining them into one “super” commission.
The 15 members of the three commissions would be reduced to seven, with the City Council selecting the commissioners. At the request of Councilman Jeff Rivero, the city attorney will look at whether people can sit on the “super” commission in addition to other committees, as well as whether people with a criminal background can participate.
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City administrators say the new ordinance will save $21,000 in staff time, video broadcasting and travel costs paid to the city’s Ripon-based attorney to attend meetings. Councilmen Jeff and Joe Rivero opposed the changes, saying it limits public participation in local government.
“I just think we’re reducing the public’s input, and it’s wrong,” Rivero said.
Councilman Larry Bergman, who suggested combining the three commissions into one, said it’s an “out of the box” way to reduce costs and help the city stay afloat in a tough financial climate. He asked about increasing the number of commissioners from seven to nine to encourage more voices.
If the plan doesn’t work, Bergman said, the city can switch back to two meetings a month and three separate commissions.
In a separate discussion, council members took up an issue that’s been lingering since January. Chuck Balch, who was appointed to represent the city of Atwater on the county’s Mosquito Abatement District Board, doesn’t live in Atwater.
The Health and Safety Code requires the appointee to live within city limits and be a registered voter.
Balch was appointed to a two-year term by Atwater Mayor Rudy Trevino in January 2000, according to Allan Inman, manager at the Merced County Mosquito Abatement District. He was reappointed by Trevino in 2001 and 2005, then reappointed by Joan Faul, the current mayor, in 2009.
Faul said she just assumed Balch was an Atwater resident because he lived “right on the border.”
“We didn’t go out and check it out like we should have,” Faul said, adding it came to her attention in late 2013. The issue was slated for a council discussion in January, but that never happened.
“That’s why it took us so long to bring it back – we had to find out whether the man lives in the city limits or not,” Faul explained, “and what (Health and Safety) codes we have to follow.”
The council decided on Monday to open the recruitment process for the four-year appointment and have the City Council, instead of the mayor, make a final selection. Appointees receive $100 a month to serve, according to Inman.
“He’s been an outstanding trustee and he did serve the city well,” Inman said of Balch. “It’s just a shame he lives about 30 feet outside of city limits.”
Balch’s term ended Dec. 31, 2013, but he’ll continue to serve until he’s replaced. He will not qualify to reapply since he doesn’t live in Atwater, Faul said.