Erin Morin and Tracey Alexander (sitting second and third from left), both of Oceanside, listen as fellow residents discuss budget priorities. Six community meetings were held at three locations to collect community input. Photo by Promise Yee

Oceanside hears from public on budget priorities

OCEANSIDE — In an effort to collect citizen input on city budget priorities prior to the City Council budget review in March, the city has been holding community meetings, which began Oct. 24 and ending Nov. 1. 

The goal of the meetings was to collect input from a diverse cross section of residents.

“The idea is we will have limited revenues in the coming years,” Councilman Jerry Kern said. “We want a clear direction on where to go in spending priorities.”

Kern added that City Council does its best, but does not always know what the majority of residents want.

“We often hear the shrillest voices instead of the common voices,” he said.

The meetings were held at El Corazon Senior Center, Civic Center community rooms, and Melba Bishop Recreation Center on separate days. Each location held a morning and evening meeting in an effort to get as many residents involved as possible.

Deputy City Manager Michelle Lawrence said about 50 people total attended the first two meetings at the senior center.

There were less than a dozen in attendance at the 10 a.m. meeting held at the Civic Center on Oct. 25.

What came out of the brainstorming groups and discussion on Oct. 25 was a long list of priorities and a few questions about present spending.

The community workshop was run by The Mercer Group consultant service.

Mike Letcher, vice president of The Mercer Group, gave a brief overview of present city goals and budget priorities.

City goals were grouped into the categories of city services, sustainable growth, economic vitality, quality of life and civic engagement.

Pie charts and graphs were presented that showed general fund revenue and expenditures, general fund tax revenues and spending, and budget and personnel reductions over the last six years.

Public safety was shown to cost 63 percent of expenditures.

Letcher said the small discussion group format allows everyone an opportunity to participate.

“In a large meeting one or two people can dominate the conversation,” he said.

Groups were asked to list important city services and services they can live without. The groups were given 30 minutes to discuss and write down their ideas.

Letcher said he has observed participants being very engaged in discussion and well informed.

Priorities shared on Oct. 25 varied from increasing government transparency, to defining neighborhood character and maintaining public safety without outsourcing.

A summary of discussion from all six workshops will be presented to City Council at a city workshop Dec. 20.

Participants said they felt it was their responsibility to attend and give their input.

“We need to take a stand on how we want our city run,” Erin Morin, an Oceanside resident, said.

There were also a few attendees who questioned if their input would make a difference and noted the grassroots efforts of Propositions E and F that were needed to overturn council decisions.