ENCINITAS — In his third state of the city address, Mayor Jerome Stocks briefly touted the balanced budget and capital projects in a litany of yearlong highlights.The annual speech served as a snapshot of a point in time during the city’s 26-year history. Stocks also took the opportunity to look forward towards completion of infrastructure projects.
The long-anticipated development of the Hall property into a park was also on his list of achievements. “This is the time to do this,” he said, noting that the city is receiving “great” bids for phase one construction on the 44-acre parcel the city bought over a decade ago.
Stocks indicated that the City Council would review the bid proposals in approximately six weeks.
The city is on strong financial footing, according to Stocks. He said the city’s effort to operate within a balanced budget was a major achievement not shared by some other municipalities in the county. The city hasn’t had to dip into its reserves despite the recent economic recession, Stocks said.
“I don’t know if we’re really lucky or really good or a little bit of both,” Stocks said. “We’ve been able to have balanced budgets and reserves and not have the stresses that so many of our brother and sister cities have had to go through.”
However, the rosy picture of the city painted by Stocks wasn’t an entirely accurate description according to at least two residents who spoke after the mayor.
Encinitas City Council candidate Lisa Shaffer said Stocks failed to mention the lawsuit the city lost last year over its refusal to release a citywide road condition report to the public. The issue emphasized what many consider is a contentious relationship between the public and the council and a lack of transparency at City Hall.
“I think they (City Council) want to operate however they want to operate and not have people asking questions,” said Jim Pershing, a Leucadia resident. “It’s not the old days where the sleepy little coastal town can be controlled by a handful of people,” he said. “It’s a new era in politics where the public has a right to know what’s going on, especially at the local level.”
Shaffer also called into question the city’s efforts to update its General Plan. A controversy brewing in New Encinitas where some residents strongly oppose the plan, served as a catalyst for the council to “reboot” the process in March after a draft version of the new plan.
The city’s financial status was called into question as both Shaffer and another resident said the city’s unfunded pension liability was an issue.
Ed Wagner, a member of the Encinitas Taxpayers Association expressed concerns about the city’s pension liability.
He said that retired municipal employees receive more in annual pension payments than many private-sector workers make in salaries.
Wagner claimed the city has a $25 million unfunded pension liability related to general municipal employees. He said the city should reduce the “lavish” retirement benefits it now offers to new employees in order to reduce that liability.
Wagner asked why the pension reform discussion hadn’t made its way to the dais. “If you want to offer these benefits, pay for them,” Wagner said. “Don’t tell us the state of the city is sound when you’re under-funding the pensions.”