Mayor apologizes for staff's grilling of critic

Thursday , June 12, 2014 - 2:43 PM

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CLEARFIELD — It was a budget hearing that ended with an apology being issued by Mayor Mark Shepherd to a Clearfield resident on behalf of some city staff and elected council members.

Shepherd’s phoned apology to resident David Tomczak followed a Tuesday budget hearing where staff and elected leaders following the meeting became visibly frustrated with Tomczak over information he had presented at the hearing critical of the proposed 2014-15 budget city officials define as being lean.

At one point staff became so annoyed with Tomczak, they told him he did not know what he was talking about and that he should have contacted the city to get more information prior to speaking at the hearing.

“I would say, ’We run lean,’ would be an understatement,” Shepherd told the few people who attended the Tuesday hearing.

The $33 million budget unanimously adopted by the council for fiscal year 2014-15 includes no property tax increase or merit pay increases for employees. It does include a total of $30,000 for market salary adjustments for the city’s 350 employees.

But according to Tomczak, the only resident to address the council at the hearing, the budget also includes some unneeded in-state travel expenses, that if reduced, the city would not be proposing a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase to generate revenue to maintain or expand its parks.

Specific in-state travel budgets Tomczak addressed at the hearing were the $850 budgeted for the city recorder; the $2,534 budgeted for district court; and the $5,200 budgeted for the city manager.

Tomczak said he is concerned dollars are being wasted by city officials having overnight stays in Salt Lake City.

The council did not address Tomczak’s remarks from the dais during the hearing. But following the meeting a few city staff and a few elected leaders surrounded Tomczak in the chambers in an attempt to explain to him the need for the in-state travel cost, and the PARAT tax that will be dedicated to the city’s parks, arts, recreation, aquatic center and trails.

“We never stay in Salt Lake City,” Councilman Kent Bush told Tomczak.

And the proposed PARAT tax, Bush said, is a way for the city to capture additional sales tax revenue from out-of-town visitors who might buy a used vehicle in Clearfield.

Voters will have an opportunity to vote on the PARAT tax in the Nov. 4 general election. The proposed revenues generated from the tax, about $200,000 annually, have not been factored into this year’s fiscal year budget.

But Tomczak says the in-state travel budgets could be significantly reduced. “You could cut these in half,” he told city officials, which only seem to further frustrate them.

City officials said the in-state travel costs that have been budgeted are closely related to training conferences certain city staffers are required to attend over the course of a fiscal year budget.

“You have got to keep your people trained,” City Manager Adam Lenhard told Tomczak of the training travel cost, much of that held in the southern portion of the state.

But despite being outnumbered and voices started to rise, Tomczak, in reading from budget figures he had printed on what was now a folded-up piece of paper, was not to be deterred.

Tomczak was also critical of the city wanting to increase its sales tax by one-tenth of 1 percent for parks, when the city was already committing $3.2 million of its total budget to the parks and recreation department.

Lenhard said those dollars budgeted for parks and recreation are already committed.

"I am going by what the (budget) numbers say,“ Tomczak said repeatedly, refusing to budge.

On Wednesday, Mayor Shepherd told the Standard-Examiner that he did personally contact Tomczak late Tuesday at his home following the meeting, offering him some explanation on those concerns he had with the budget, and offering him an apology for what had occurred in the council chambers following the meeting.

Shepherd, who did not approach Tomczak in the chambers in meeting with others, said he also emailed city leaders and staff following the meeting, letting them know the incident with Tomczak should have not occurred and that there were better ways for them to address his questions and concerns..

Contact reporter Bryon Saxton at 801-625-4244 or bsaxton@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @BryonSaxton.

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