OCEANSIDE — City Council failed to adopt the proposed 2013-14 general fund budget that proposed $1.6 million in cuts, following council members’ request for more information. The 2-3 vote March 21, in which Councilmen Jerry Kern, Gary Felien and Jack Feller voted no, will postpone the budget hearing until April 19.City Manager Peter Weiss said the postponement would not allow time for staff to prepare a line budget for council to OK. Instead a broader program-based budget will be prepared for council to pass by the June 1 deadline. The detailed line budget will be ready in July.
The stall to pass the budget came when Kern said he sent the city manager a list of 14 questions that he needs answered before he can approve the budget plan.
Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said Kern had an opportunity to speak to Weiss before the meeting and had not come prepared.
Weiss said staff would provide City Council with answers to Kern’s questions by the April 19 workshop. In addition to answering the questions Weiss will prepare alternatives on how to cut $450,000 from the budget per Kern’s request.
Already on the table are 2 percent cuts in non-safety departments and 1.5 percent cuts for the Police Department and Fire Department.
An additional proposed target cut is to reduce the city clerk job to a part-time position. The elected city clerk is currently paid $167,000 in full-time salary and benefits. This is substantially higher than other elected city positions.
To change the city clerk to a part-time position and hire additional hourly help would save the city $92,000 annually.
Assistant City Clerk Holly Trobaugh asked that the city clerk remain a full-time position due to the small department staff, heavy workload and expertise needed.
“We have two elections to cover,” Trobaugh said. “Nothing we do can be eliminated. We must meet all deadlines.” She added that full-time department employees are near retirement and it would be more beneficial to hire a permanent employee who could be trained for current duties and upcoming vacancies.
“I think this position is really critical right now,” Trobaugh said.
Other proposed cuts are to leave 16 city positions vacant that will be open due to attrition, and outsource city street sweeping services, parking enforcement, fleet services, harbor administration, right-of-way cleanup and recreation custodial services.
City Council members proposed some cost-cutting and revenue-generating suggestions of their own. Sanchez suggested reducing City Council aides’ paid workweek from 40 hours with benefits to 33 hours with benefits. Feller took the idea further and said council aides should be eliminated to save the city money.
Mayor Jim Wood proposed a half-cent sales tax increase that would align Oceanside’s sales tax with neighboring cities. “We’ve done a lot of cuts,” Wood said. “We’re right down to the minimum right now. I’m not in favor of cutting. I’m concerned where we’re going with public safety. Why not accept some sort of outside revenue.”
Council members did not support the tax increase.
“We can’t ask taxpayers to pay increased fees and increased taxes,” Felien said. “Taxes should be the last solution not the first solution.”
Kern said he would like to establish a priority budget next year to predetermine where future budget cuts should be made. He called the present budget discussion a “shotgun approach.” Kern added that continued across-the-board cuts would eventually render departments unable to provide services.