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Huntington Beach approves $373 million budget for fiscal 2018-19

The Huntington Beach City Council on Monday approved its 2018-19 budget, which dedicates 55% of the general fund to public safety and 15% to infrastructure.

The City Council OK’d the spending plan with minimal discussion. Officials would have adopted the proposal last month but decided to continue the matter to get input from council members Erik Peterson and Lyn Semeta, who were absent.

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The budget for all funds totals $373.1 million, a 3.27% increase from 2017-18. The general fund, which funds the majority of city services, is up 2% to $228.4 million. The fiscal year begins July 1.

City officials project a modest 1% increase in general fund revenue from taxes, fees and other sources, said City Finance Manager Carol Molina-Espinoza.

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Revenue from property and hotel occupancy taxes will continue to grow, Molina-Espinoza said, but money from licenses and permits may begin to drop as developments, such as the Pacific City, fill out.

In public safety, the Police Department is slated to receive $3.55 million more — a 1.5% increase. The Fire Department will see a 2.1%, or $773,000, spike.

A large chunk of public safety money will go toward replacing vehicles and equipment, upgrading aircraft, refurbishing marine safety rescue boats and replacing a lifeguard tower.

The proposed budget doesn't fund requests for an additional police detective and four new officers.

Employee pension costs will continue to strain annual budgets, Molina-Espinoza explained, but added that plans the city implemented four years ago — including paying an extra $1 million a year beyond the required minimum toward pension obligations — are helping.

Semeta was "bummed" to learn the city couldn't continue to pay the $1 million into unfunded liabilities and said they will look at ways to “do a better job at that in the future.”

Councilwoman Jill Hardy called the extra payments toward pensions a top priority.

On a positive note, Semeta said she was pleased certain infrastructure projects, such as renovations to Central Park, would receive financial backing.

Windward development project moves forward

In other business, the council approved a second reading of an ordinance that forwards a proposed development project on the Bolsa Chica mesa to the California Coastal Commission for review.

The proposal allows several amendments to the land-use and zoning classification on half of the 5-acre Windward site to allow 36 town homes. Hardy dissented.

Monday's vote marks another hurdle cleared by developer Signal Landmark, which has been in discussions for years with city staff and the nonprofit Bolsa Chica Land Trust to try to reach an agreement on the proposed project.

Signal would dedicate 8.7 acres of the surrounding mesa to public open space; that would include the other half of the Windward site.

The plan would go into effect only if the nonprofit Trust for Public Land can’t raise enough money to buy all of the roughly 11 acres from Signal in order to preserve it.

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