Funds approved for firefighter hires, agritourism studies and aquatic center plans

OCEANSIDE — The city quietly passed its budget with funds focused on safety, economic development and city services on June 3.

Following the vote Councilman Chuck Lowery said budget discussions were subdued this year because there were no layoffs to consider.

Conversely a few extra city staff members were hired.

The only funded hires to receive “no” votes in the approved budget were the SAFER grant positions. The six firefighter paramedic positions were approved for $523,000 in one-time funding.

Despite safety being a top city priority. Councilmen Jerry Kern and Jack Feller voted against, citing concerns that the city would be locked into to paying for the positions in following years.

“When the grant runs out, the positions should run out,” Kern said.

Kern brought up this point at budget discussions in April, in which Fire Chief Darryl Hebert explained contracts are for one year, and the cost is reimbursed to the city by pending SAFER grant funds.

The benefits of the hires are they provide additional firefighter paramedics to serve a short-staffed city, and give those hired a year of city experience under their belts if upcoming positions need to be filled.

Lowery supported the one-year hires.

“Our No. 1 responsibility is to provide residents public safety services,” Lowery said. “It’s expensive to do that. We understand that.”

An economic development item that came under question was funding an agritourism study. Lowery was not supportive of the $50,000 expense in April, but voted for it last Wednesday.

Following the meeting he said he does not think agritourism is viable in Oceanside, since some of the major growers are looking to sell their farmland to developers.

He added mandated water cutbacks are making profitable farming more difficult, and selling land a better financial bet.

Oceanside farmers have already taken measures to stump 15 percent of their trees and plant 15 percent less crops to meet San Diego County Water Authority Special Agricultural Water Rate restrictions.

Lowery said his yes vote was in support of studying the possibility of agritourism for farmers who remain determined to sustain their farms.

A capital improvement item that rallied a lot of community support was $1.2 million for design and studies of El Corazon Aquatic Center.

Residents and swim and water polo coaches spoke at numerous prior meetings about the need for a competition-size city pool and updated aquatic facilities.

The estimated $12 million swim complex will serve swim and water polo teams, seniors and the community. Funds to pay for the build are anticipated to come from reissuing city general obligation bonds that are set to retire this year.

Once plans are approved and funding is secured, the swim complex could break ground as early as 2016, and be open for use by the summer of 2107.

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