SB to cut back city services

Budget woes also affecting projects

Residents may soon notice fewer street sweepings, longer permit processing times, and the Shorelines newsletter in their e-mail inboxes instead of the mailbox.

Solana Beach is cutting back city services as well as postponing several projects and dipping into reserves to avoid going into the red by $900,000 in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“There is a severe impact, but no services have been eliminated at this time,” City Manager David Ott said.

The city is budgeting $13.5 million for government operations and community services in fiscal year 2009-2010, about 6 percent less than anticipated before the recession hit.

However, because the city’s primary revenue sources - property, sales and transient occupancy taxes - have been falling since last year, the budget is only slightly less than the 2008-2009 budget after it was adjusted downwards for the recession.

“We’re hoping to hit bottom sometime this year - that’s about as positive as it gets,” Ott said about the national economy.

To address the revenue loss for the current fiscal year, city staff slashed their operating budgets by $460,000, including training, conferences, travel and supplies. Employees will not receive an annual cost-of-living pay raise and vacant staff positions in the Community Development Department will not be filled, even though this will likely mean longer permit processing times.

Despite these cuts, the city council still faced a $443,000 deficit, which they worked to close during budget workshops on April 29 and May 5.

The council agreed to hold off on an expensive drainage system upgrade along South Granados for another year. The project was not critical and could possibly be done more cheaply in the future, Ott said.

The council also spread funding for implementing the city’s Local Coastal Program, the proposed plan to manage long-term development along the bluffs, over multiple years.

While cutting in some areas, funds were restored in others that had been reduced previously: Friends of the Solana Beach Library, the San Dieguito River Valley Joint Powers Authority and the Community Grants Program.

Also, at the urging of Councilman Dave Roberts, the council agreed to set aside $50,000 for fixing potholes and other road improvements, to augment $300,000 from other funding sources.

These decisions mean the city will take $88,000 from reserves to close the budget gap. “That’s not unreasonable, keeping in mind the cuts that have already been made,” said Deputy Mayor Tom Campbell.

More than $4.9 million remains in undesignated and contingency reserves, equal to 37 percent of the city’s general fund budget, well above the city’s 17 percent minimum required by the state.

The end result is a balanced, though very restrictive, budget the council must formally adopt before the 2009-2010 fiscal year begins in July.

Anticipating traditional revenue sources will not fully recover, the council also agreed to investigate ways to bring in more money for the city. The staff will return with more information in the coming year about increasing the fire benefit fee, which every property owners pays for fire services, and implementing a business tax, which most other cities charge businesses to cover their use of city infrastructure and services.

The fee and tax would have to be approved by voters.