When a couple of people asked why top-level executives in the city are poised to receive significant raises in the coming fiscal year, City Manager Randy Criswell didn't hesitate nor mince words with his response.
Mineral Wells City Council on Tuesday held a second public hearing on the proposed 2020 budget and tax rate. Following a story published Saturday in the Mineral Wells Index, two people attending the hearing – John Johnson and Lann Murphy – openly questioned $111,576 in combined pay and salary increases proposed for seven top level positions, increases of 10% to 22%.
They asked why city employees, proposed to receive 2 percent across-the-board increases, are not receiving more.
Following the questions and remarks made by Johnson and Murphy from the back of the council chamber, Councilman Brian Shoemaker offered some explanations about the increases, especially as it relates to the city manager, then turned it over to Criswell to respond.
"The expectations you people have, I don't even know what they are, frankly, for you to stand up there and ask that question," said Criswell. "I don't know what your expectations are, sir. But I know what mine are for this city, and that is to do the best that we can do for Mineral Wells, Texas, and I can't do that with people who don't want to stay here because they are being paid an insulting salary to take over a responsibility far beyond what they were asked to do before I came here."
When city council hired Criswell earlier this year, they approved a 33% salary increase to $170,000 for the city manager position – a figure unchanged, but impacting, next year's proposed budget.
The city manager said at his former position as Canyon's city manager, he had an executive support staff over 13 people, compared to four in Mineral Wells, and operated an overall budget of $20.3 million, compared to Mineral Wells' $35.8 million. Canyon's general fund spending totals $10.1 million, compared to Mineral Wells' $13.9 million.
"I can tell you the city I came from was a very, very well run city," Criswell stated. "Very well. This one I would say, frankly, there is too much work to do here and not enough people. ...
"We are going to take this to a new place, a new level, beyond anything that you probably can even imagine. But I can't do it asking people to work for not even a competitive wage. That's why we had a salary survey in this budget that we had to cut out because nobody wants to see their taxes raised but they want to complain about things in the city, but you don't want to pay for anything to be better."
Criswell continued, saying there are a lot of city workers who are underpaid and are being asked and expected to do more.
"I have large, huge expectations for them going forward," Criswell said. "That's the expectation that these people have of me. I can't do that alone. So I need help, and I am going to pay people, I hope, assuming that this budget is taken care of, pay increases that will not stop for employees of Mineral Wells, Texas, as long as I am the city manager here.
"I have to start with the people I depend on the most, and that's the ones who are in my office every day and I'm dumping chores on them because we've got work to do here.They have earned it, and they deserve it. Whoever asked the question, 'How long have I been doing this?' A long time. Five months here, 24 years before that. Add it up, whoever asked the question. So, yeah, I know what I am doing and I know what people are supposed to make and I know what it is to take good people and support them and take care of them so that we can do what I think the city might want to do, which is to stop doing what we've always done before and be better."
Criswell's comments were followed by a response in the audience of, "The problem is where's the money? You've got to raise taxes."
That led to a call of order from the council dais. Councilwoman Beth Watson asked people wishing to speak approach the podium and mic.
Mayor Christopher Perricone said he would allow people in the audience to raise their hands and he would call on them.
Along with the increased salary for the city manager at the time of his hire, the proposed 2020 budget raises the salary of the city's building official 13%, along with raises for the five people Criswell refers to as his "executive team" – the finance director, city secretary, public works director and police and fire chiefs.
The city manager previously said the proposed executive team pay increases would bring them to within 90 percent of the average pay for those positions based on comparisons he made using Texas Municipal League data for cities similar to Mineral Wells.
The cumulative proposed executive raises account for nearly one-fifth of $603,383 in total general fund pay increases. If approved as proposed by council, general fund employee pay would total $6.4 million in the next fiscal year, a 10% increase.
Perricone continued his questioning of changes made in some line items and fund balances as council reviewed a third set of proposed 2020 budget numbers.
The mayor focused on the proposed streets department budget that calls for a 31% spending increase, largely because of plans to acquire a new street sweeper and crack-sealing machine, while decreasing material purchases by 5 percent.
"That tells me we don't care about fixing the streets," Perricone said. "We are never going to get the streets fixed if we keep going down on materials."
Councilwoman Tammy Underwood suggested a decrease in material purchases could be tied to completion of the MH 379 project.
Finance Director John Moran reiterated that pouring money into street repairs will largely be wasted dollars until the city completes its drainage study and makes utility infrastructure repairs that are largely responsible for much of the poor street conditions.
Perricone said there are ways to provide more dollars for things like street repairs. He suggested paying the costs of the interim economic development director from the city's 4B economic development fund to free up additional general fund monies.
Ward 4 Councilman Light said the crack-sealing machine is important.
"We can't quit doing maintenance on our streets," he said. "We have a lot of catching up to do."
Council is set to adopt the proposed and tax rate, an increase of 3 cents per $100 valuation, at its regularly scheduled Sept. 17 meeting.
City council unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with the Palo Pinto Water Supply Corporation that gives them the opportunity to pursue a $1.6 million Texas Water Development Board improvements grant.
The corporation has not had a contract with the city to purchase water, but TWDB required a guaranteed water source in order for PPWSC to apply for the grant.
Attorney Rudy Segura, a partner in the Dallas law firm McCall Parkhurst and Horton, asked council approve a new 10-year agreement that would provide the water corporation up to 10 million gallons of water a month.
Segura said that amount will likely never be reached, since the water company typically purchases about 3 million gallons of water a month, and only once used 4 million gallons in a month's time.
He said the water company is a 52-year-old entity with aging, and failing, infrastructure and is hopeful of securing the TWDB grant. He said the corporation and city have been out of contract for 12 years.
"This is a first step in a long process," Segura said.
The city is continuing to study its wholesale water rates to area water supply corporations and plans to bring forward a new rate structure soon, said City Finance Director John Moran. This agreement would provide contracted services for PPWSC in the interim and allow it to pursue its grant application.