Newport passes balanced budget

Trimming positions while investing in emergency response equipment, the Newport Beach City Council passed a balanced $263-million budget Tuesday night.

The 2012-13 fiscal year budget eliminates 11 positions, while buying two fire trucks, an ambulance and revamping the city's aging 911 emergency dispatch system.

Newport ends this fiscal year with a $4.4-million surplus and $98 million in reserves, a position stronger than most cities. High real estate values have buoyed the government coffers, as property tax revenue remained constant or even climbed during the recession.

"Let's compare that to what's going on in the state and the financial train wreck that exists there," Councilman Keith Curry said.

Still, Newport has cut expenditures in recent years to offset rising pension costs. Most of the latest cuts hit the Municipal Operations Department, which oversees the city's trash and sewers. Its budget was slashed by more than $1.5 million, and will see a loss of about 10 positions. In total, the city will reduce its full-time workforce from 763 employees to 752.

Conversely, the Fire Department plans to spend about $5.4 million more in the coming fiscal year. That includes $1.8 million in new vehicles: a hook and ladder truck; a standard fire engine; and a paramedic ambulance.

Fire Chief Scott Poster said all vehicles were needed to replace ones in service now. A ladder truck that the department bought a few years ago will be placed on reserve, while the one on reserve today will be auctioned, Poster said.

Firefighter salaries and benefits are expected to increase by nearly $1 million for roughly the same number of employees.

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Business Fines

In other news, the council raised the fines levied against bars, restaurants and other businesses that violate certain parts of the city code. Businesses that allow dancing without a permit, exceed their maximum occupancy or pollute the bay, for example, would be subject to a $1,000 fine for their first violation, and up to $3,000 for the third violation. Currently, the fine for these violations is $100 for the first offense and up to $500 for the third violation. Those amounts are seen as a cost of doing business, officials say, for noisy restaurants and bars.

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Fourth of July

On Tuesday, the council passed a new plan that leaves Balboa Boulevard open on Fourth of July, although police have the option of closing it. City parking lots on the Peninsula will be closed, in addition to the 100 blocks of 39th, 41st, 43rd, 45th and 46th streets from Balboa Boulevard to Seashore Drive. The 100 block of Orange Street will also be closed to traffic coming from West Coast Highway.

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Newport Boulevard Widening

In other street news, the council voted to approve a $280,000 contract to design the widening of Newport Boulevard between 30th Street and Via Lido. Deputy Public Works Director Dave Webb said that the widening could require taking private property and parking spaces on either side of the street. The plans call for bike lanes on both sides and raised landscaped medians.

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Discretionary Grants

The council also reviewed its discretionary grants for the current fiscal year. Council members spent $16,500 total on pet community groups and schools, with $25,000 still available.

The largest grant, $2,000, was from Councilman Ed Selich to sponsor a Balboa Island Improvement Assn. parade.

Councilwoman Leslie Daigle gave Airfare, a political action committee that fights John Wayne Airport expansion, a grant of $1,000.

Council watcher Jim Mosher said grant may be against state law prohibiting public dollars being spent for political purposes.

mike.reicher@latimes.com

Twitter: @mreicher

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