OCEANSIDE — City Council passed the 2012-2013 budget with a bet on securing an additional $450,000 a year by increasing ambulance fees.The OK came in a 4-1 vote April 17, in which Councilman Gary Felien voted no.
A significant $1.6 million was trimmed from the budget by a 2 percent cut in non-safety departments, a 1.5 percent cut in police and fire departments, additional targeted cuts and outsourcing some city services. City street sweeping, parking enforcement, fleet services, harbor administration, right-of-way cleanup and recreational custodial services will be outsourced.
In addition to budget cuts, ways to generate city revenue are being explored.
Mayor Jim Wood, Councilwoman Esther Sanchez and Councilman Jack Feller said they would support the proposed ambulance fees increase that would add $450,000 a year to the city budget.
“Without ambulance fee rate increases, they (council members) were going to have decide where to make cuts,” Wood said.
Councilman Jerry Kern said he is undecided on whether he would support the ambulance fees increase that has yet to be voted on, but did vote to approve the budget including the fee increase.
Felien did not OK the proposed budget and said he would not support the ambulance fees increase.
City staff explained that city ambulance services are a public service that are not priced to recover full costs, but Felien stuck to his position that Medi-Cal recipients, Medicare recipients and “freeloaders” are raising costs for others.
“Those who are paying their bill pay their fair share,” Felien said. “Increasing fees sticks it to people already paying.”
“It’s a $120 million budget and we’re arguing, discussing less than a million of it,” Felien added. “We’re refining it around the margins, but the long-term budget problem doesn’t go away.”
With the 2012-2013 budget approved, council members are looking ahead at ways to deal with an anticipated $2 million shortfall in 2013-2014.
Growing city PERS costs, due to PERS investment loss, are being slowed down. To date, all city employees except for fire employees, who are in the process of contract negotiations, are paying their entire employee’s share of PERS to ease the situation.
To help cut additional costs, Kern asked city staff to look at a list of ideas that include initiating pay freezes where contractually possible, and eliminating city take-home vehicles.
Kern said the list is ongoing. There is no specific timeline for city staff to return to council with recommendations.
His long-term solution is to adopt a priority-based budget that makes targeted department cuts. City Council has not supported this idea.
Wood said that with continued cuts threatening city services, the city is looking outside the box at ways to generate money. Some likely solutions are ambulance fee increases that are pending City Council approval, and a sign ordinance update that will regulate revenue-generating digital signs.
The sign ordinance update was OK’d April 18.
“Digital signs can bring money to the city,” Wood said. “The millions in advertisement can pay for libraries, pools — things we’re cutting.”
Wood said the goal is to bring in additional revenue and make fewer cuts.
He has suggested raising the city sales tax by half a cent to generate revenue, but City Council has not supported the idea.