Solana Beach officials work $800K in savings into budget, address fire staffing concerns
By Claire Harlin
Staff WriterAfter postponing budget approval for the first time in the city’s history, the Solana Beach City Council passed its 2011-12 budget on Aug. 24, reducing the general fund by about $800,000.
Citing a nearly $700,000 deficit, with revenue coming in at about $13,700 and expenditures totaling almost $14,500, City Manager David Ott plans to operate this year at a $124,100 surplus.
Much of the savings came from the decision to not fill two key, recently-vacated positions and distribute the workload to other employees or himself. The city’s community development director retired, saving the city $195,000, and the finance director resigned, saving $99,700.
“These are not easy times,” said Ott, adding that the workload is actually growing at the same time that the number of employees is dropping. “I have to thank the many employees who have stepped up and said, ‘I’ll do it.’”
Solana Beach is also saving about $300,000 by reducing the scope of its general plan and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) projects — renovations officials said can be reassigned later, if and when Highway 101 upgrades are passed and Suburban Transit Network (TransNet) money can be used.
In planning for the upcoming year, the city also has to take into consideration that it will have to pay out $269,000 to comply with state law ABX1 27, which allows individual redevelopment agencies to continue operating as long as local officials commit to providing annual contributions to local schools and special districts.
At the council’s June 22 meeting, the council asked Ott to return with solutions after meeting with city departments individually and asking them to come up with ways to trim their budgets.
A number of possible cuts were spoken about around the city, but one department — the Solana Beach firefighters — became particularly concerned about budget-trimming ideas that came across the table.
In particular, one proposal was to minimize overtime expenditures by not bringing in an automatic-overtime replacement when a firefighter calls in sick or is on leave, whether for vacation or worker’s compensation. That would reduce fire teams from six members to five members about 30 percent of the time, officials said, leaving one apparatus staffed with two men, as opposed to the usual three.
Firefighters and concerned citizens packed the council chambers — leaving little to no standing room in the back — to voice opposition to this proposal, turning the budget hearing into a two-hour discussion on matters relating to the fire department. The staffing change was not, and had never been, recommended by the city manager.
The Solana Beach Firefighter’s Association made a presentation to the council, which outlined the detriments of the proposal and suggested that reinstating a wellness program would minimize excessive overtime payouts. Fire management responded to the presentation, rebutting many of their suggestions and claims.
The council also heard from a few supportive citizens and a car crash survivor who expressed deep appreciation and praise to the fire department, which not only excels in response times but is nearly 40 percent above the national average in cardiac arrest survival rates.