MH scales back spending to stay afloat
by Justin Lafferty/TP staff
Jun 05, 2009 | 5011 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Many street lights in Mountain House, such as these on South Central Parkway, may be dimmed as the community services district will likely approve dimming 75 percent of the lights on the town’s major streets.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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MOUNTAIN HOUSE — In an effort to balance the budget, Mountain House officials approved a litany of reductions, including a plan to turn off many street lights and cut back on landscaping.

Facing a proposed deficit of almost a million dollars next fiscal year, the Mountain House Community Services District plans to make cuts to save $887,436.

Paul Sensibaugh, the district’s general manager, came to the board of directors on Tuesday and Thursday with a list of ways to save money by reducing nonessential services.

In addition, developer Trimark Communities granted Mountain House a one-time gift of $25,000 to help with budget problems, bringing the total saved to $912,436.

These decisions, while approved by the board, will not be put into effect until the district finalizes the budget at its next board meeting on Wednesday.

“I think it’s going to help a lot,” said Sara Milnes of Citygate Associates, a firm helping the district with its finances. “You can’t have a deficit budget, or you go under. You have to do something in the first year, or you have a problem like the state.”

Sensibaugh said that turning off 75 percent of the street lights along main streets such as Mountain House Parkway and Mascot Boulevard would save $50,000 a year in electric bills and maintenance. Nader Shareghi, the district’s public works director, said that intersections and residential streets would still be well-lit and that this decision will not have a significant effect on safety.

Rejecting an idea to hire a sheriff’s sergeant — who would have been hired through the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office and deployed exclusively to Mountain House — will save $244,988.

There is also $234,351 worth of planned savings to the general fund, which includes full-time district employees giving up a 3 percent cost-of-living wage increase. The concession, which Sensibaugh said the employees volunteered for, will save $47,722.

There was also discussion at Thursday’s meeting about imposing salary cuts on those employees, a notion shot down by board members. The district now has 12 full-time workers after eight were laid off in February. One has also resigned.

“We’re adding more workload on them,” board vice president Bernice King Tingle said. “I personally think it would be a slap in the face to suggest that not only do they not take a salary increase, but to give up monies that have also been planned into their budget.”

The district will also cut back on services from Citygate Associates by $48,000.

Less money will be spent on landscaping, freeing up $150,000 from the district’s contract with Valley Crest. The district said this would mean mowing park lawns once a week instead of twice and cutting back on plant trimming.

Mountain House will likely also host fewer events. The budget for public gatherings was slimmed by $25,000 as the district plans to cut ties with AIM Consulting, which helped plan events such as the El Paseo Art and Wine Stroll. Board members said they hoped that gap could partially be filled with volunteers.

Before the proposed revisions, Citygate’s Dwayne Milnes in May projected the service district’s $2 million reserve in 2009-10 would reverse itself, turning into a more than $6 million deficit four years from now.

Even with the changes, Sensibaugh predicts a starting balance of $3.3 million and a four-year balance of $21,363.

“We’re not perfect and we’re not soothsayers, but we feel comfortable, or we would’ve never presented this to the board,” Sensibaugh said. “We try to spend the least we can but provide the best quality.”

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