Mill Creek fills another key position: finance director

Jeff Balentine left after budget season. Laurel Gimzo comes from Ottawa, Kansas, to replace him.

MILL CREEK — City Manager Michael Ciaravino has hired a new finance director, making good on a promise he made to the City Council this fall to fill key positions on Mill Creek’s leadership team.

He picked Laurel Gimzo, a municipal government employee from Ottawa, Kansas, the city said in a recent news release. Gimzo, whose titles have included assistant finance director and treasurer, led her department at the Midwestern city for two years without a director, according to the news release.

“Gimzo brings with her passion, innovation and a proven track record of collaborating with other city departments to accomplish goals and to provide fiscal conservancy for the Mill Creek community,” Ciaravino said in a written statement. “Along with her prior experience, these skills will contribute to the success of the Finance Department and City operations.”

Her predecessor, Jeff Balentine, left the city following budget season.

The announcement comes less than a week after Ciaravino announced his choice for the city’s next police chief, Jeffery Young, who worked at the Phoenix Police Department in Arizona for 25 years.

Months of tumult and turnover at Mill Creek City Hall culminated in early September, when a union representing many city employees voted to declare no confidence in Ciaravino. The bargaining unit urged the city council to remove Ciaravino from his position, citing his decision last summer to lay off longtime staffers while reportedly showing favoritism to those in his inner circle.

The council instead worked with Ciaravino on a set of goals, including firming up his leadership team and improving communication with other staff and residents.

Balentine, the city’s past finance director, resigned from his post in August after less than five months on the job. He cited “philosophical differences” with city leadership and personal reasons.

But Balentine returned weeks later to help the city through a challenging budget season. Similar to other local governments, Mill Creek is feeling the strain of a pandemic-induced economic downturn that has slashed sales tax collections and reduced other revenue streams. The losses could amount to $4.2 million in coming years, city staff have projected.

The council on Dec. 1 passed a $63.3 million budget for 2021-22 — a modest increase from the current biennium’s spending plan, which was about $59.1 million when it was initially adopted.

“The Budget assumes the COVID-19 pandemic ends soon, and that we may return to normal operations on January 1, 2021 and restart recreational services by July 1, 2021,” Balentine said in another recent city news release about the spending plan. “Unfortunately, the overall impact of the pandemic will likely be significant, and the City must use its discretion to allocate resources and continuously project revenues and expenses five to six years into the future.”

City leaders have resolved not to fill “open, non-essential staff positions” until the pandemic ends and the economy recovers, said the Wednesday news release. They’re also exploring new ways to make money, including new recreation and passport services.

Before Gimzo began working in municipal government in Kansas in 2016, she had jobs in the private sector, including one as a senior bank loan specialist and another as an operations management analyst, Mill Creek officials said.

“I believe local government and those representing it should be honest and hardworking, transparent, and embody passionate energy to serve the community,” she said in a written statement. “In my opinion, the best way to accomplish that mission is with collaboration, motivation, and working together.”

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

This story has been modified to correct the spelling of Mill Creek Police Chief Jeffery Young.

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