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Solana Beach set to pass balanced budget

SOLANA BEACH — Operating as “a lean and mean machine,” Solana Beach appears on track to begin the upcoming fiscal year with a balanced budget. 

Although a proposed budget presented at a May 23 meeting showed $29,791,600 in revenues and $30,660,300 of expenditures, “that doesn’t mean we have a deficit,” City Manager David Ott said.

“Obviously, over the past several years, like both private and public entities, the city of Solana Beach has had its budgetary challenges,” he said. “It’s been a process where you, the council, have directed some operational changes, some cost-saving moves. We’ve weathered, I think, this pretty bad … long-term storm fairly well.

“When we went into this in 2008 … we were a lean and mean machine, but we truly are a lean and mean machine now,” Ott said. “We’re fairly flat on our revenues and we’ve definitely held our expenditures as well.”

According to the proposed budget for fiscal year 2012-13, which begins July 1, 39 percent of total revenue, or $5.5 million, will come from property taxes. Another $2.9 million is from sales tax, which makes up 21 percent of revenue.

Those amounts are up 1 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

The motor vehicle in-lieu fee is estimated to be $1.2 million, representing a 1 percent increase.

Two of the other top six revenue sources will remain flat. The transient occupancy tax paid by hotel guests is estimated to be $810,000, and franchise fees for gas, electric, waste and cable contracts are expected to be $668,000.

The fire benefit fee, paid by all residents, is capped at $460,000.

Public safety remains the top general fund expenditure, paying for firefighters, law enforcement and lifeguards.

Ten years ago the city had “significantly more full-time employees” than it does now, Ott said, adding that except for step increases there have been no increases in salaries or benefits for those workers since 2008.

Other than $10,000 to the city clerk’s office for the upcoming election there have been essentially no increases to department budgets either.

The city annually puts money into reserve funding, which currently has a $7 million balance, for upcoming capital projects.

Expenditures for those projects may be shown on the proposed budget but money earmarked for them in reserves is not necessarily listed as revenue, which explains the current gap in the proposed budget, Ott said.

The Highway 101 streetscape upgrade is the major capital improvement project for the upcoming fiscal year.

Sean MacLeod, president of the Cedros Avenue Design District Association, asked council to consider a $45,000 contribution for $90,000 in upgrades in the public right of way on South Cedros Avenue that include landscaped pop-outs, enhanced pedestrian crossings and improvements to make several areas compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Property owners will add shaded seating, bicycle parking and upgraded signage, MacLeod said. Since the late 1990s, the district and city have had a partnership in which both agencies pay 50 percent of needed improvements to invigorate, keep relevant and enhance the pedestrian nature, safety and charm of the area, he said.

Council members directed staff to accommodate the request in the final budget, which will be presented for adoption at the June 27 meeting.

Facing a possible $700,000 shortfall, council delayed adopting the current budget until August 2011, two months into this fiscal year, after staff was able to close the gap.