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City finds itself in unique position

In spite of healthy revenues and a solid reserve account, members of the City Council continue to take a careful approach to spending as they ponder the city’s 2011-2012 budget.

Indeed, as many other public agencies cut back programs and services to cover deep deficits, the dilemma facing La Cañada leaders is having many choices of how, and how much of, its projected budget surplus should be spent.

Revenues are expected to total roughly $11.3 million during the next fiscal year, more than enough to cover scheduled operations and salary costs of $10.2 million. And the city’s reserve account could total as much as $15.5 million, a record for the city.

Council members have before them up to $3 million worth of optional “consideration items,” including support for community programs and special city projects — what Councilwoman Laura Olhasso calls “the fun part” of city budgeting.

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It’s also a juggling act, said Councilman Donald Voss, because the city has so many possible projects it would like to do that many on the list will have to be passed over, delayed or paid for by tapping reserves or other city accounts.

On Wednesday, representatives from 10 community groups and the La Cañada Unified School District made pitches for a combined $470,000 in city funding.

The council allocated $313,000, trimming some proposals and deferring discussion of a request for $145,000 to replace a leaking roof and make other repairs to the aging Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge.

Despite what Community Center board member Meredith Reynolds characterized as the urgent nature of the need, council members said the city must develop a long-term strategy to address its need for myriad and expensive upgrades.

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“This is exactly the discussion we need to have,” said Reynolds, who told of water pooling inside the building after rainstorms.

Council members did, however, approve $15,000 to support Community Center programming and operation, including the annual Thanksgiving Day Run, senior bridge tournaments and teen dances.

Although its pitch wasn’t the largest, LCUSD is set to receive the most of any group — $108,000 to retain two security guards at La Cañada High School next school year. Governing Board member Scott Tracy told the council the guards otherwise would be laid off due to district budget woes.

Pointing out that the city already contributes $1 million per year to joint facilities maintenance, Olhasso reluctantly supported city funding of district personnel on condition it would be a one-time expenditure.

“It’s weird,” she said. “I wouldn’t want the school district to think necessarily that the city would always fund [personnel].”

Councilmen Donald Voss and Steve Del Guercio, who helped the district formulate the pitch as part of the city’s joint-use committee, argued that the general public safety benefits of keeping the guards outweighed their cost.

Noting that the LCF Chamber of Commerce is experiencing a budget surplus of several thousand dollars this year, council members held back from increasing funds for the annual Festival in Lights and shaved a $107,000 total funding request from board Chair Joel Peterson down to $100,000.

The Leisure Club of La Cañada Flintridge, LCHS Music Parents Association, the annual One City, One Book program, LCF Merchant Connection, Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, La Cañada Valley beautiful, LCF Tournament of Roses Association and Lanterman Historical Museum Foundation are also set to receive programming grants.

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Council members have yet to decide to fund, reject, defer, or tap into reserves to pay for more than $2.5 million in proposed capital projects or expanded city operations.

Price tags range from $530,000 for street resurfacing to $5,800 for website upgrades. Proposals also include $73,000 to initiate a city-wide economic development program, $90,000 to install an extra right-turn lane from Angeles Crest Highway onto Foothill Boulevard, $39,000 for renovations at the Lanterman House and $210,000 for upgrades to the crosswalk at Foothill and Union Avenue.

After line items are hashed out, the budget is scheduled for approval July 18.
 
 


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