Taxpayers group briefed on budget

The city budget is of prime interest to the Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn., and members went to the source to learn more about it.

City Manager John Pietig, who created the proposed 2011-12 budget, was the guest speaker at the association's annual luncheon Tuesday at the Aliso Creek Inn.

"John was very relaxed and covered all the budget issues," said association member Karl Koski, a retired city manager.

"He brought us up to date on the pensions and the costs of employee benefits."

Association President Martha Lydick said the group found the budget acceptable as presented.

"But two things came up that are very important to the taxpayers [association]," Lydick said. "First the animal shelter. There are a lot of animal lovers in the association, and we really wanted the shelter to be state of the art.

"It is too bad, it's almost completed because we would like to see an organization like the Friends of the Library out there to get more private money invested."

The second issue was the expense of running the trolleys. Laguna Beach is the only city in South County operating a municipal transportation system, with year-round buses and seasonal and weekend trolley service.

"It definitely has been a high priority, but federal and state subsidies are drying up," Koski said.

Dennis Myers said posting advertising on the inside of the trolleys could offset the expense.

Another suggestion was a running video of what's going on in town and ads for restaurants.

Chris Keller, president of the Chamber of Commerce and owner of K'ya and the Rooftop in his Casa del Camino hotel and the House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer, backed the idea.

Pietig's talk was followed by a question-and-answer period, which was dominated by questions about the Open Space Initiative.

"These lots are little islands in the middle of already developed private property," Realtor Bobbi Cox said. "If the lots are not buildable, how would they be maintained and accessed? How do you finance oversight and maintenance? It all comes back to the taxpayers."

Pietig said Wednesday that he couldn't give a definitive answer because he doesn't know which lots would be acquired or the effects of future development of neighboring properties.

In response to a question by Frank Ricchiazzi about the impacts of the purchases on the city revenue, Pietig said to the extent the properties were contributing to the city in terms of taxes, taking them off the tax rolls and putting them into public ownership would cause some reduction in revenue, the amount unknown at this time.

The association also elected the board for a new term.

Lydick was reelected president. Myers was will serve as vice president, Ed Peterson as secretary, Ari Hovanesian as treasurer. Directors at large include Cox, Ricchiazzi, Koski, Sandy Hovanesian, Ann MacDonald, Angie Peterson and Kent Russell.

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