Sounding off

Gary Alstot

A question to you in last weeks paper was: “What should be in or out

of the Laguna Beach city budget?” Your answers will be interesting.

At the April 9 City Council meeting there was a heated discussion over


a list of non-funded city projects and activities. A list of current

non-funded budget requests was attached to the agenda item. The budget

requests exceeded the available fund balance by more than $20 million. A

few of the non-funded projects included a community clinic, underground


parking at the proposed Community Center, parking at the Village Entrance

and a new or moved corporate yard.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if each council member reviewed this list and

established priorities for each activity in the list for public review

prior to the May 22 budget workshop? Then the workshop efforts could

address the issue of which projects will be funded in the coming year.

It was clearly explained to us at the April 9 council meeting on the

unfunded projects that the city budget cannot have a shortfall and must


be balanced. With the council having agreed on the projects to be funded

for the coming fiscal year, rather than debating the merits of projects

all year, city efforts could be spent on completing the agreed-upon


This does raise a question. How does the council know how much

projects cost compared to the original estimate? Do council members

receive status reports on projects underway with such information as the

original estimate, expenditures to date, estimated cost to complete and


completion date?

Each budget does include a list of projects for each of the next 10

fiscal years for the capital improvement fund, sewer fund and gas tax

fund capital improvements. I couldn’t find a word about what happened to

last year’s projects. Were they completed on time and within budget?

Have you looked at a city budget? According to the latest budget there

are sub-budgets for each of the nine departments: Police Department, Fire

Department, Municipal Services Department, General Government,

Administrative Services Department, etc. The budget categories for each

department consists of salaries and wages, maintenance and operations,

capital outlay, special programs and capital improvements. Expenditures

within each of these categories are further subdivided into one of more

than 15 sub-categories -- categories such as salaries, full-time,

Medicare insurance, employee group insurance, vacation payoff, uniforms

and laundry, training, travel and dues, natural gas, material and

supplies. We do learn that about half of the city’s $40-million budget is

spent on salaries and wages. That’s it. That is all we know about what

departments spend and accomplish.

We sort of know what police and fire personal do. What do the other

departments do? How much is spent on city services such as street

sweeping, car washing, street repairs, landscape maintenance, parking

meter maintenance, etc.? How can intelligent decisions be made without

the facts?

Last year there was a statement in the budget about starting an

initial preparation of a new financial reporting model, which will be

effective for fiscal year 2002-03. I wonder if the City Council knows the

status of this new financial reporting model? A performance-based

accounting system sure would be helpful. I hope that such a system is

added to the list of funded projects for this year. Wouldn’t it be nice

to know what we get for our money? Just wondering.

* GARY ALSTOT will contribute regularly to the Coastline Pilot

community forum page. If you want to contribute to Sounding Off, write us

at P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, CA, 92652, fax us at 494-8979 or send an

e-mail to o7 coastlinepilot@latimes.comf7 .