OCEANSIDE — City Council took a different approach to this year’s budget workshop.
Instead of being held at City Council chambers with digital displays and a live television feed, the March 12 workshop was held at a conference room at the San Luis Rey Water Reclamation Facility and used hand written charts, handouts, and hands-on participation.
The goal was to set priorities in the categories of police, fire, economic development, infrastructure, utilities, transportation, capital projects, community services, and administrative services.
A general budget forecast of healthy growth and a one time $4 million surplus was shared.
The task was to set priorities without looking at funds or expenses.
This was considered “off point” to a few council members, especially with categories like capital improvements that had single items costing over $10 million to rank.
“It’s hard to make a decision on all of these when I’m not sure exactly what money is available,” Mayor Jim Wood said. “I can pick all of those, but we can’t pay for them.”
Following the meeting City Manager Steve Jepsen said council priorities will be weighed against available funds, and some priorities will not be implemented.
During the process priorities that rose to the top were additional police patrol downtown, neighborhood policing, and gang prevention.
Councilman Jerry Kern said it is a high priority to have additional police patrol downtown.
“We have a new hotel, it’s a real economic driver for us,” Kern said. “We spend a ton of money getting people here. We want them to come back.”
Wood said he sees the priority as having more police officers and letting the police chief make the decision on how to best use resources.
Fire Department implementation of a citywide $8.5 million RSC radio system, and expendatures for a $500,000 apparatus replacement have already been approved.
Smaller squad response vehicles, and fixed overtime for the Fire Department were prioritized and will be brought back for further discussion.
In regards to economic development, jobs creation and enhanced sales tax revenue were priorities, with some council members focusing on a citywide approach and others a regional approach.
Priorities identified for utilities were local water supply development, and upgrades to the La Salina Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Kern said it is important to the long-term health of the region’s economy to develop local water sources.
“Lack of water stops growth quicker than everything else,” he said.
The Water Conservation Master Plan, and Zero Waste Plan implementation are mandatory.
Capital projects that ranked at the top of the list were railroad quiet zones, beach sand, and beach restrooms.
Wood said he would like to see the $600k already set aside to move sand from the San Luis Rey River to the beach, to be redirected to repair potholes.
A lot of interest was shown in completing long-term transportation goals, although there were differing priorities on which efforts should be focused on.
The list included Coast Highway planning and Mission Avenue implementation, which are now in progress, and road maintenance.
Also on the list was the Oceanside Boulevard Vision Plan, and Rancho del Oro interchange.
The budget process started weeks before the workshop with an extensive one on one interview with each council member by Teri Bianca, TB Enterprises principle consultant. Each council member went over the nine categories of staff recommendations and prioritized them.
At the workshop a summary of council members’ priorities was shared. Then council publicly reviewed and ranked the top three priorities in each category.
Physically putting a red, blue or yellow sticker on the top three priorities in each category, allowed a crude, yet graphic visual, which was followed by discussion.
Jepsen said he was pleased with workshop discussion.
“At first it was a little messy,” Jepsen said. “Towards the end the dialogue was way better.”
Bianco said the expectations shared by council members in the pre-interview and listed anonymously in workshop handouts were telling.
Council’s expectations going into the workshop ranged from zero expectations, I think we’re wasting our time, to a 5-0 decision to move forward on a plan, and clear direction to staff to implement our top priorities.
Bianco said the workshop technique was effective in setting priorities without idealology.
“It’s a good process for digging into issues with your hands, head and heart.”
A summary of workshop findings, and further budget discussion will continue at the April 2 City Council meeting. The workshop did not allow time for community comments.