No cuts, more cops in H.B. budget

No layoffs, no department cuts and no service reductions. That's what the Huntington Beach Finance Department told council members during a discussion Monday of the proposed 2013-2014 budget.

For the first time since the recession hit in 2008, finance director Lori Ann Farrell and budget manager Carol Molina said the city's general fund was balanced.

"It must've been a bit of a pleasure to put together a budget where you weren't going to all the department heads and saying, 'Cut 10%, cut 10%,'" Mayor Connie Boardman said during the study session. "It's a relief to hear, and I'm sure it was a relief for you all to put together."

Staff is proposing a $313.6 million budget, with projected general fund revenue of $193.5 million, about a 6% increase from this year, Farrell said.

The city will look to spend about $3.3 million for public safety upgrades, which include additions to the police and fire departments.

Farrell said two police officers will be hired in the upcoming fiscal year, bringing the number of sworn officers to 209. Officers numbered 237 before the recession.

The Fire Department is expected to add a fifth ambulance and six ambulance operators.

The city's capital improvements and infrastructure are to be discussed during the Aug. 5 study session, with the aim being to hold a hearing on the budget by September.

Property and sales taxes are also projected to increase, bringing in combined revenue of about $67.9 million, Molina said.

Fixed costs for the city have reportedly gone up. City staff is looking at about a $7.4 million increase, including higher pension payments and other liabilities.

As discussed in a study session in April, the city was expected to see the discount rate for the California Public Employees' Retirement System drop in the next fiscal year, resulting in an increase of about $3.1 million in CalPERS costs in the budget, Farrell said.

Staff also budgeted $1.4 million more for retiree medical and supplemental plans, Farrell said.

The plan could be too optimistic. Molina said the city still hasn't heard from the state regarding the dissolution of the redevelopment agency, noting the hit to the city's budget could range from $6 million to $15 million.

"Judging by what other cities have gone through so far, we're not expecting any good news at all from the state," City Manager Fred Wilson said. "It's likely to be a very big number and likely to be a tough battle."

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