Rancor in Woodland as council members walk out of meeting

Members object to outgoing mayor's budget proposal



WOODLAND — Relations between the City Council and lame duck Mayor Chuck Blum seem destined to remain rancorous until the end.

At Monday’s council meeting, four members walked out after a frustrating hour’s discussion on the 2012 budget. Blum refused to recognize their vote to adjourn, but the foursome walked out anyway.

That left only Blum, Councilwoman Susan Humbyrd and newly elected Councilmen Marshall Allen and Scott Perry remaining. The proceedings discouraged Allen.

“All I hear is criticism. To come up here and blast each other, that’s not going to accomplish anything,” Allen told the council before the walkout.

The blowout leaves the city little time to adopt a budget before the end of the year, as required by law.

Council members started the meeting trying to figure out whether to work with their budget or one presented by Blum, who did not seek re-election and whose terms expires within a month.

Blum’s budget avoids staff cuts but relies heavily on an expected $200,000 in gambling revenue from the Oak Tree Casino and Restaurant’s new cardroom and spending $400,000 of the $526,000 the city has in cash reserves.

“You spend the gambling money we don’t have,” Councilman Ben Fredricks told Blum, “and you’ve spent all the money in the city’s reserve and put the city on the path to bankruptcy.”

Most of the meeting was spent discussing the possibility of imposing a 6.5 percent utility tax to generate revenue for the city’s fire department and government improvements, including possibly hiring a city administrator.

Some council members seemed reluctant to raise taxes to fund a city administrator, but Councilwoman Marilee McCall said the public might support the tax if it ensures that two responders are on call at all times at the fire department.

The number of calls to the department increased 10 percent in the last year and 20 percent during the last couple years, but funding has not changed. As a result, response times have increased, and in some cases only a single firefighter responds to emergency medical calls.

Allen said he would oppose the tax, and Councilman John Burke said he would oppose it if it were used to fund a city administrator.

Frustrated, Fredricks said the other members were offering no alternatives to the city’s problems.

“We can do nothing, or we can fix it,” he said. “I’m being told the reason why taxes are bad, but I’m not getting any solutions.”

There was no resolution to the utility tax issue, which is to be discussed further at the council’s next regularly scheduled meeting on Monday.

The meeting was Perry’s first on the council since winning the coin toss last week to replace Darwin Rounds. He said he was miffed after the public spat between council members and the mayor, but confident the city would be able to pass a budget before the end of the year.