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Quality of life versus vital services

The proposed city budget got a split decision Tuesday night.

“I want to get back to basics,” said Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman. “We

need to stop doing things that are nice -- and they really are nice --

but not when the city’s corporation yard looks like Guatemala.”

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Kinsman and Mayor Wayne Baglin criticized the proposed $31-million

budget for allocating funds to quality-of-life projects while vital

services or projects are being shunted aside.

Proponents said the city can, and should, support more than the bare

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necessities of health, safety and city operations.

“The theme that we need to take care of basics before spending on

other projects is getting tiresome,” said Councilman Paul Freeman.

By law, the city cannot approve a budget that is not balanced. That

doesn’t mean every project can get funded, and many will not, at least in

the immediate future, which is one reason the city has a 10-year capital

improvement plan.

“We don’t have the people to get the job done. We have a shortfall in

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our sewer system. Our collection system is millions of dollars

underfunded,” Baglin said.

Other programs or services that Baglin cited as getting shafted

included the addition of a dispatcher in the emergency communications

department, a lifeguard headquarters desperately in need of renovation

and streets in Woods Cove he described as looking like alligator skin.

“We don’t have a shortfall; we just don’t have any money,” Baglin

said. “And we are doing things that feel good. I do not agree with this

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budget. Money is going for nonessential purposes.”

Councilman Steven Dicterow, however, supported the budget.

“The overall position of the budget is good,” he said. “Budgets are a

matter of choices. We have focused on basics in past years. But great

cities enhance the quality of life and feed the soul.”

The city’s budget is fed by revenue from property taxes, sales taxes

and the parking fund (meters, stickers and lots). Revenue was better

than expected last year -- not an unusual event with the conservative

estimates promulgated by City Manager Ken Frank.

The city will start off the next fiscal year with a comfortable

cushion, some $150,000 above the legally required 10 percent reserve and

the contingency fund initiated by former Councilman Wayne Peterson.

Also: two black clouds have disappeared for now from the city’s

financial horizon. An Orange County Superior Court decision that could

have cost the city a one-time $1 million hit and an ongoing loss of

$800,000 a year in revenue from reduced property taxes got a setback.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that no law or policy

supports the contention that property tax reductions in lean years must

stay at that level.

Frank said the issue probably will be in the courts for at least a

couple of years. Also: state officials have said they will not usurp

local revenue to balance the 2002-03 state budget. However, Frank, who

prepares the city budget, would not be stunned if it happened. It has

before.

City expenditures include funding the operation of the city’s

emergency services, capital improvement projects, municipal services and

a tiny percentage allocated to community assistance grants for community

and cultural organizations, plus some sizable assistance to selected

nonprofit organizations or services.

This year’s budget includes $2 million for a community center on 3rd

Street. A large chunk of city funds has already been spent to purchase

adjoining property for the Senior Citizens Center, from which the city

will receive $1 a year rent. The Laguna Beach Community Clinic would like

to piggyback on the deal.

The city is considering balancing the budget by raising parking-meter

fees, which can be spent at the council’s discretion, and the sewer rate,

but that money goes into a dedicated fund for use only within the sewer

system.

“If we are going to have sewer rate increases, we should get something

for it,” said resident Frank Visca. “Eliminate blockages.”

The channel project is supposed to get underway next year, funded

mainly by federal and county agencies. It is expected to reduce flooding

in the downtown by enlarging the downstream capacity of the channel to

match the upstream flow.

The project, once the darling of city officials, has apparently lost

some of its luster.

“I have concerns about tearing up the city for two years for [control]

of 10-year events, when we regularly have 100 year events,” said

Councilwoman Toni Iseman, who co-chairs the Wastewater Advisory

Committee.

Mayor Baglin said he was surprised not to have seen a swell of support

for the project.

He questioned the need for the project in light of the lackluster

support, its expense and the technical design, a reversal of his previous

advocacy. His was the lone vote earlier this year not to delay the

project for further study.

Baglin and Iseman volunteered to review the applications for community

assistance grants and make recommendations.

Among the applicants: the Boys and Girls Club, which reduced its

request from $450,000 to $375,000, over a three-year period.

“That comes out to $125,000 a year,” said club director Kim Maxwell.

“Divide that by the 250 kids we serve daily and it works out to $1.39 per

day per child.”

Feedback Foundation, which supplies the meals at the city’s Senior

Center on Legion Street, asked for $8,000 to make up for a reduction in

federal funding.

Ten people spoke on behalf of the Laguna Beach Community Clinic’s

request that the city purchase its building, which clinic representatives

said no longer serves their needs, and lease it back for a price to be

discussed -- rumored to be $1 a year.

Clinic Medical Director Korey Jorgensen estimated the clinic would

need $4 million to build a new facility and reportedly have privately

asked city staff about purchasing the building for $3.8 million.

The council’s budget subcommittee is due to report back to the council

at the June 18 meeting, at which time the council is expected to approve

the budget.

A balanced budget must be adopted by July 1, the beginning of the new

fiscal year.

FYI

Copies of the draft budget are available at City Hall and on the

city’s Web site, www.@lagunabeachcity.net, for public review.

Question: What do you think should be in or out of the budget? Write

us at etc. etc. etc.


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