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Solana Beach adopts balanced budget

SOLANA BEACH — City Council unanimously adopted a balanced budget at the Aug. 24 meeting, nearly two months into the fiscal year, which began July 1.
At a special meeting May 25, interim City Manager David Ott presented a proposed budget with projected expenditures of $14,412,200, but only $13,719,700 in revenues.
Not wanting to adopt a budget with an estimated $700,000 deficit, council members directed Ott to return in August with recommendations to close the gap. One area they asked him to look at was $380,000 in overtime and workers compensation in the Fire Department.
Ott managed to find $816,000 in cost savings without any layoffs, major changes to service or adjustments in fire department overtime.
With revenues remaining the same and new expenditures of $13,595,600, the adopted budget reflects about a $124,000 surplus, but that is already needed for additional known expenses since the fiscal year began.
The biggest savings came by reducing the scope of the state-mandated general plan update by $265,000. The city had budgeted $490,000 for the project that is expected to ultimately cost more than $1 million.
Ott said he would complete the housing element, some portions of land use and maybe traffic circulation to show progress and compliance on the update.
Community Development Director Tina Christiansen retired as of June 30 and by not replacing her, the city will see a $194,600 savings. Some responsibilities will be shifted to other staff members, including Ott, but Wende Protzman, the deputy city manager, will assume most of them.
“That’s no easy task,” Ott said. “That is a very, very busy department with a lot of interaction with the public — very critical interaction with the public, especially in land use.”
Also not being replaced is Dennis Coleman, the former finance director who resigned June 17.
Marie Berkuti, the finance manager, will assume those responsibilities. She and an administrative assistant will receive salary adjustments for an overall savings of $99,700. Another staffing shift following the retirement of an administrative assistant resulted in $46,700 in savings.
The county agreed to pay $11,400 for the 800-megahertz cost for sheriff radios, and $45,000 in Americans with Disabilities Act projects will be shifted to the Coast Highway 101 improvement project and be paid with Department of Transportation money.
Additional $153,700 in savings was found in various departments that include everything from turning off lights and decreasing the frequency of lawn maintenance to reducing private security patrol.
“You’ve done very good work in turning over every rock and looking at everything as we had requested you to do to find a way to be able to adopt a budget that’s balanced,” Mayor Lesa Heebner said.
In concluding his report, Ott said staff identified an additional $412,000 in salary and benefit savings if additional cuts are needed, but that would mean employee layoffs and changes to service.
“I hope I never have to see that,” he said.
The scheduled one-hour meeting took twice as long as expected because the Solana Beach Firefighters Association accused Ott, on their website a week earlier, of proposing to reduce staffing. The posting, which came out the day after firefighters ratified this year’s agreement, urged residents to attend the meeting.
Many did and representatives from the association and management each gave presentations. Residents lauded the firefighters for their service, and council members said they had nothing but respect for the department.
“I think it really takes a unique individual to want to be a firefighter and charge into a burning building and rescue people,” Councilman Dave Roberts said. “We really do honor our firefighters and what they do for us.”
The new budget reflects virtually no change in staffing in the department, but Councilman Mike Nichols said overtime and workers compensation still need to be looked at.
“We shouldn’t just let this go at the end of tonight,” he said, noting that it will continue to be an issue during the next budget cycle.
In adopting the budget, council directed its ad hoc Fiscal Sustainability Committee to continue to look at that and other alternatives if future cuts are needed.