City Council approves 2012-13 budget

The City Council approved on Tuesday a $66.2-million budget for the upcoming fiscal year with only minor changes from the budget developed at the public workshop in May.

Over and above the usual expenditures for salaries for police, firefighters and city employees — which includes no raises this year and medical and retirement benefits — and projects that improve infrastructure and make the city safer, money was found for some one-time items on the council's wish list or recommended by City Manager John Pietig.

"This is the most important decision of the year and only a couple of people from the public were there," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson. "I guess it is a vote of confidence that the public is happy with the way we are spending their money."

One-time expenditures from the $47.5 million general fund include $800,000 toward the city's $4.2 million share to refurbish the 800 MHz Countywide Coordinated Communications System; $120,000 each for an update of the Downtown Specific Plan and the Landscape and Scenic Highways Resource Document and adopt it as an element of the city's general plan; and $75,000 to hire a consultant to help the city's Heritage Committee deal with the outdated historical inventory.

The council also approved Pietig's request to continue the services of Bob Burnham, who has been working since the December 2010 floods on reimbursement of city outlays from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state Emergency Management Agency and the city insurance company.

As it happens every year, there was a little horse trading before the council doled out about $250,000 in Community Assistance Funds. Pearson and Councilman Kelly Boyd reviewed the requests from local nonprofits and recommended grants and left $11,200 in the pot, which was quickly allocated.

Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger eked out another $1,000 for Animal Crackers Pet Rescue. Mayor Jane Egly snagged $2,000 for Coastal Family Therapy and Councilwoman Toni Iseman gave the Laguna Resource Center an extra $2,500.

The council also increased the recommended grants for the Laguna Beach HIV Advisory Committee, Laguna Canyon Conservancy, Laguna Dance Festival and No Square Theatre.

Rollinger also wrangled $25,000 from the Capital Improvement Fund for wetlands restoration on the city-owned DeWitt property as recommended by the Laguna Canyon Flood Mitigation Task Force that she initiated.

Chris Prelitz convinced the council to tack on an additional $5,000 onto the appropriation for bikes racks in town and maybe some more sharrows that remind folks that streets are not just for the use of motorized vehicles.

City revenue is improving and the budget starts with a $300,000 cushion, keeping intact the $4 million Recession Smoothing Fund as well as the mandated 10% reserve fund.

"If things don't go well with the state, changes will have to be made, but I remain optimistic," said Pietig, who masterminded the budget.

The budget agenda bill, including the Community Assistance Grants, is available on the city's website An adopted budget will be published.

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