City dips lightly into reserve amid tough budget year

La Cañada Flintridge City Council members concluded four days of budget hearings last week with a decision last Thursday to leave $14.1 million in the city’s general fund reserves for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

While many other Southern California cities were forced to raid reserves while simultaneously cutting back programs and services, La Cañada instead saw its rainy-day fund grow by $1 million last year — leaving an enviable current balance of $14.7 million, almost unheard of for cities its size.

This year’s financial picture also offered a rosy, if somewhat tighter, outlook. Had council members decided to operate the city at an absolute bare-bones level over the next 12 months, projected revenues of $11.2 million could have resulted in even fatter reserves.

Instead, council members decided to use that small budget surplus and scale back reserves as much as $600,000 to help fund a number of infrastructure projects and community activities.

“There’s a frugality in our governmental culture, and because we’ve done that over the years, we’ve been able to maintain our reserve. And when you have a good situation like that, you can reinvest in infrastructure that’s critically important to our city,” said Councilman Steve Del Guercio.

Approved public projects for the next fiscal year total well over 10% of the city’s spending next year on essential operations and salaries.

The approved projects include:

— $530,000 for street resurfacing

—$350,000 for trash screens over approximately 200 street drains

— $275,000 for maintenance for repairs to sidewalks, drains and bridges

— $200,000 to build median islands on Oak Grove Drive, splitting that cost with Pasadena

— $80,000 for trail repairs

— $12,250 for new fencing at the FIS tennis courts

— $12,225 to renovate the Lanterman Auditorium women’s restroom

— $5,800 to revamp the city’s website

Council members weren’t happy with some of the projects — almost bitter, in fact, at having to spend on drain screens to meet regulatory requirements by the Regional Water Quality Board.

“As hard as it is to swallow, I don’t know what other option we have,” said Mayor Dave Spence, who despite the city’s comparatively strong fiscal position described the week’s choices as being part of “a tough budget year.”

Indeed, a number of project proposals met with the ax, including:

— $260,000 to build a storm drain on Padres Trail between Descanso and Forest Hill drives

— $210,000 in safety upgrades for the Foothill Boulevard crossing at Union Avenue

— $90,000 to install a second right-turn lane onto Foothill from Angeles Crest Highway

— $26,725 for other Lanterman Auditorium renovations

— $25,000 for a city welcome sign on Angeles Crest Highway south of the 210

— $18,000 to begin using new and more decorative street signs

Some of those choices were easier than others, said Councilman Donald Voss.

“We can’t tell residents that we’re not funding your important project, but we are funding this,” he said of the proposed $25,000 city welcome sign.

As the Valley Sun reported last week, council members also issued more than $300,000 in grant funding for 10 community groups and the La Cañada Unified School District.

The LCF Chamber of Commerce received $100,000 for the annual Festival in Lights and other programs, but the school district’s grant was the largest, with $108,000 going to prevent the impending layoffs of two security guards at La Cañada High School.

The Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge, Lanterman Historical Museum Foundation, LCF Tournament of Roses Association, La Cañada Valley Beautiful, the Crescenta-Cañada Family YMCA, LCF Merchant Connection, LCHS Music Parents Association, Leisure Club of La Cañada Flintridge and the annual One City One Book program received funding in various amounts that totaled more than $100,000.
 
 

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