The South Laguna Community Garden Park and the Laguna Beach police department both scored victories in claiming newly available revenue in the city’s coffers this week.
Runner ups in a budget workshop Tuesday included marine protection, fuel modification, traffic control and emergency radio service. The City Council will hold a second public hearing at a June 17 meeting before adopting the changes in the $51.8 million budget that begins July 1, roughly 2.5 percent higher than the originally approved budget of $50.5 million.
Better-than-expected growth in property taxes, hotel bed taxes and building and planning fees this year led city staff to bump up budgeted revenue estimates for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The city’s general fund, capital improvement fund and parking fund each received a cash infusion of $1.2 million, $130,000 and $436,000 respectively, according to the staff report, leaving an extra $1.8 million surplus.
Out of the city’s three major revenue sources, the first two being property and hotel taxes, only the third, sales tax, failed to exceed expectations, coming in at half its projected growth, the report said
The Council agreed with little debate to staff proposals to spend the first $1.4 million of the windfall, including $1 million towards the city’s unfunded pension fund liability and $200,000 for restoration of the burn dump behind the Sun Valley neighborhood that was uncovered during the 2010 flood.
Of the remaining $390,000 available, City Manager John Pietig outlined a prepared wish list with $2.2 million worth of requests for a piece of that, along with late-arriving pleas, such as the parking traffic and circulation committee’s request for $40,000 to add more traffic control at key intersections downtown from April to Labor Day.
Twenty-nine residents then came forward with additional claims.
Ultimately, the Council agreed to three police department additions: an additional sworn officer, $15,000 towards helicopter surveillance of the canyon for illegal campsites and campfires, and a police K-9 officer.
Cheryl Kinsman promised that the Woman’s Club of Laguna Beach would raise the $20,000 for the purchase and initial training of the dog, with an additional commitment to raise another $20,000 for a replacement dog when the first retired after seven or eight years. Carol Kahn, a Girl Scout leader, promised their support in fundraising for the K-9 program.
The Council also pledged $250,000 towards the South Laguna garden, funds that accrued in the city’s park in lieu fund as a result of a land sale. Outlining the myriad ways in which the verdant terraced corner has become an open-air community center for al fresco lunches, workshops and potlucks with live music, ten supporters asked for help raising $1 million to buy it.
Their stories hit home. Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen said that he had opposed funding the garden last year because he thought it was too insular. But they have since done a great job of broadening their scope, he said. Council member Steve Dicterow, too, said his initial reservations gave way as they became “a true community park.” The Council agreed to earmark $250,000 for the garden, to be paid if supporters raise the rest of the funds required to purchase the property within three years.
A number of safety measures also scored. Laguna’s non-profit FM radio station KX 93.5 received $18,000 to pay for equipment that will allow them to stay on air during a power outage, allowing emergency broadcasting service linked to city hall and 911 operators in the event of a disaster. And the Council allotted $15,000 to the emergency disaster preparedness committee to cover readiness packets for first responders and improvements to the city’s emergency operating center. And the PTC received their traffic control funding.
The Council also honored a last minute plea from Ginger Wallace to restore to full-time status the city’s marine protection officer, a post created in 2004. “We have an excellent marine protection officer and we don’t want to lose him” by asking him to fulfill rigorous duties in limited time, she argued. The Council agreed.