By Ruth Musser-Lopez
NEEDLES-Objections from two Needles citizens at the city’s Tuesday night council meeting did not change the minds of the Needles City Council members, who by unanimous vote extended by four years and increased the $197,000 employment contract of city manager Rick Daniels. By June 30, 2018 Daniels’ contract is scheduled to increase to $217,000. The council also voted in public session to provide Daniels with California Public Employee Retirement System benefits in the same amount as all other city of Needles managers and increase Daniels’ present salary by $10,000 as of July 1, 2016. In each subsequent year, Daniels’ employment contract will increase by $5,000 per year and he will receive the same benefits and vacation time as if he were a 20-year employee. Daniels began with the city in 2013.
Needles, with its 4,844 residents, is the smallest city in San Bernardino County population-wise and has the smallest tax base. Many of its residents are impoverished and/or live on fixed incomes. In addition to Daniels, Needles has six other manager level employees receiving annual salaries of over $100,000. In addition, the city is laying out substantial consultation payments to economic development advisers.
Economic development is a sore point with Needles, which is at a disadvantage in competing with other businesses that lie across the nearby Arizona and Nevada borders, in that those states have lower sales and gasoline taxes. California’s higher tax rates induce many customers to avoid shopping on the California side of the Colorado River altogether. As a result, Needles’ last grocery store, Basha’s, closed its doors last year. Basha’s closure came after Daniels was hired as city manager amid assurances he would be able to turn the city’s financial circumstance around by retaining existing businesses and attracting new ones.
Councilman Shawn Gudmundsen praised Daniel’s work, saying that the job of Needles city manager is more complicated than one might expect and that Daniels had cut some costs in many areas that more than offset his salary increases. Gudmunsen then boasted that for the first time in years the city manager has been able to find a way to get well deserved pay raises for all city employees.
The Sentinel has learned that the city of Needles budget for fiscal year 2015-2016 provides $210,526 in salary and benefits for the city manager, $147,407 for the assistant city manager, $117,500 for the finance director, $127,894 for the finance assistant, $116,829 for the senior utility accountant, $111,892 for the director of public works, $104,400 for the chief water plant operator, $90,900 for the water foreman, $96,400 for the golf park superintendent, and $94,900 for the golf PGA pro.

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