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Fireworks erupt as council debates budget

Barbara Diamond

An early display of fireworks erupted Tuesday in City Hall during a

nasty debate on the proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

The City Council delayed approval of the 2002-03 budget, unable to

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agree on how revenues should be spent. By law, the council must approve a

balanced budget by July 1. The council is scheduled to meet again next

Tuesday.

“This is a bad budget,” Mayor Wayne Baglin said, sparking a heated

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dialogue between council members about where the blame lay.

Council members did approve increases in sewer and parking meter

rates, some animal services and police department fees and salary hikes

as stipulated in employee contracts, plus modifications to the 2001-02

budget.

The 2002-03 budget was scheduled for approval Tuesday, but Baglin,

Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman and Councilman Steven Dicterow wanted at

least another week to mull it over.

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Baglin said that the City Council and the public were shunted aside in

the budget process.

“We have no voice,” Baglin told the standing-room-only crowd in the

council chamber. “You have no voice.”

Baglin blamed City Manager Ken Frank, of whom the mayor has been

increasingly critical in recent months.

“We are not powerless and if you think we are you should resign,”

Councilman Paul Freeman riposted. “If three of us say put it in the

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budget, it goes in the budget.

Freeman blasted the idea that the council works for Frank. The city

manager is the only employee directly hired or fired by the council.

Freeman challenged budget critics to come up with an alternate plan.

Baglin and Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman are hampered in any budget

proposals by a conflict-of-interest law that prevents them from voting on

or discussing projects on 3rd Street, which are within 500 feet of

property they own, separately.

The closest they come is to urge that more money be spent on

infrastructure, without mentioning the millions earmarked for or being

negotiated for the Senior Center, the Community Center and the Community

Clinic on 3rd Street.

“What upset me most was budgeting $200,000 instead of the $250,000

needed for the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority, and being told we didn’t

have the $50,000,” Kinsman said. “Then all of sudden, we did have it. But

it was allocated to the Boys and Girls Club.”

Unless the full membership fee is paid, the city will loose its ETRPA

seat, and the fight against the airport is not over, Kinsman said.

Kinsman also voted against the parking meter rate increase. She said

she wanted a comprehensive traffic management study done that would

include a professional estimate of income that would be generated by the

increase.

Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Anne Morris urged the council to hold

off on the rate increase and proceed with the study. Morris cited some

purely technical problems that need to be resolved, such as how to

provide the 18 quarters motorists will need for three-hours of parking at

$1.50 an hour.

Freeman had submitted a smorgasbord of allocations from the estimated

income generated by the increased rates, but Councilman Steven Dicterow,

the mayor and Kinsman said it came too late for proper review. The

Freeman allocations will be brought back as a separate agenda item at

next Tuesday’s meeting.

The annual budget is based on estimated revenue from property, sales

and bed taxes; parking fees and a variety of dedicated funds for the

improvement, maintenance or operation of such infrastructure as sewers,

streets, lighting and parks.

Estimated income for 2002-03 is $45 million.

Expenditures are estimated at $47 million, with a beginning cushion of

$11 million. The budget includes the mandated 10% reserve, but only a

fraction of the funding requested by the South Orange County Wastewater

Authority, which operates the treatment plant at Aliso Creek, of which

Laguna Beach is a partner.

City officials informed the authority in March that it did not have

the money to pay its share of proposed improvements. Most were delayed,

but an essential flood control project was approved. The city’s share of

that is $137,000, which will be paid. Next fiscal year the deferred tab

will be $1.2 million.

Lost in the miasma of dissension Tuesday were the Community Assistance

Fund allocations proposed by Mayor Baglin and Councilwoman Toni Iseman.

The allocations total $230,000 and are based on requests from community

service and cultural organizations, recommendations from the Housing and

Human Affairs Committee, the Arts Commission and the Recreation

Committee.Iseman and Baglin met with almost all of the groups requesting

funds the week before the council meeting and then got together Sunday to

resolve the difference between the $230,000 fund and the $500,000 in

requests.

“Wayne and I had to make some tough decisions,” Iseman said.


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