Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Leaders praise city's balanced budget


At the penultimate meeting on the city of Santa Barbara’s proposed $250 million operating budget for fiscal year 2009, city leaders praised the balanced budget as one of few in the state.
“We’re the only entity that is in the black right now, because the county is hurting for, what, $8 million [for mental health services] and the state for $18 billion,” Mayor Marty Blum said.

Even so, City Administrator Jim Armstrong urged caution as he noted a poor economic climate.
“We are going to have to look at next year’s budget month-by-month,” he said. “The economy is so uncertain.”
With gas prices rising, sales tax revenues in flux and the state government possibly targeting city funds, Armstrong warned the council that they may need to make on-course corrections by the end of the year. Councilmember Iya Falcone echoed his concerns.
“It’s a pretty well-established fact at this point that the state will be coming after us in the property tax area,” she said. “…We will get hit, very likely.”
During their final review of the city’s budget before scheduled adoption on June 25, city leaders also softened the relative blow to police services and agreed to a slate of other adjustments suggested by staff and the Finance Committee.
When initially shown to city leaders in mid-April, the recommended budget included a reduction of $767,000 to the proposed increase in the police department’s budget.
Tuesday evening, the City Council agreed to ease off on three of the proposed adjustments to police services, including a suggestion to hold a police captain’s position open for six months after it is vacated by retirement in the coming year.
Instead, the city will draw additional cash from a risk management reserve that has enjoyed a surplus due to fewer worker’s compensation claims to cover the cost of filling the captain’s position, as well as supporting the department’s training budget and $53,000 of overtime and hourly salaries.
City Finance Director Bob Pierson said he feels comfortable about bumping up the funds flowing from risk management as the city is expecting another year with low worker’s compensation claims.
“That reflects on the ramped-up training,” Councilmember Grant House said, emphasizing a more proactive approach to ensuring city employees aren’t hurt on the job. “…It really is a success story.”
Other changes to the budget since April include allocating funds to support the RV Safe Parking Program after it saw success during a trial run in city lots. City council and mayoral salaries will also drop nearly 3 percent from the assumed increase — based on area median income — for a savings of $19,000, causing Mayor Blum to remark that state legislators “should use us as an example.”
Although the council accepted most of the adjustments without extensive discussion, House expressed concern about the elimination of a Rental Housing Mediation Task Force position and agreed with Finance Committee recommendations that staff return in six months with an analysis of the task force’s caseload and the impact of the eliminated position.

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