By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent
The Laguna Beach City Council adopted a two-year operating and capital projects budget totaling $94.2 million for next year, and $96.3 million for fiscal year 2018-2019, leaving an $11.8 million reserve, according to finance director Gavin Curran.
Big-ticket capital improvements over the two years include $6 million total for the city’s contributions to Coast Highway
sidewalk improvements. The $40 million Caltrans project will add sidewalks between Moss Street and Seventh Avenue. City street improvements and rehabilitations will cost $4.1 million, and storm drainage design and construction at various locations in town will cost $2.5 million.
In 2018-2019, $800,000 will be set aside to replace fire station number four and possibly provide funding for a new community pool, if supported by the council.
Included in the budget is $300,000 for a “pension strategy” to address rising employee pension costs, the driving factor behind a projected $2.5 million budget deficit by 2022. The city’s projections show the California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPers, adds $2.6 million to the budget per year by 2024. The city’s finance department hopes to devise a strategy for making payments to CalPers by the end of summer. Curran says he’s awaiting new actuary reports, expected in July or August.
Elected officials also divvied up $280,000 in Community Assistance grants for 2017-2018. They include $30,000 to the Boys and Girls Club and $25,000 each to the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, Laguna Beach Community Clinic and South County Cross Cultural Council.
Remaining grants dolled out in the 11th hour, included $10,000 to the HIV Advisory Committee and $6,000 to the Friends of the Library.
“The Boys and Girls Club provides an incredibly important function in town,” said council member Steve Dicterow.
Other monies include $251, 252 from a park in lieu fund earmarked for the South Laguna Community Garden.
The city’s budget also includes $135,000 in both years for two additional jailers, funded by a hike in bed taxes. Also, $25,000 was allotted in both years for a full-time school resource officer, provided the school district contributes matching funds.
Curran says that leaves $135,000 in the general fund for any upcoming needs, some of which may be related to the Laguna Beach Fire Department’s strategic plan.
Other changes in the budget include a hike in fees for police and animal services. Copies of police reports will increase to $15 from $10. Three false home alarm calls in a year will cost property owners $125 instead of $50. Dog adoption will now cost $125 instead of $100.
The increases are expected to reap an additional $106,000 per year, something city council members justified by saying Laguna’s fees need to be more in line with those of neighboring cities. They discussed the possibility of also raising fines for littering and parking violations, items that will require publicly noticed hearings.
“There are some egregious parking issues that fall in the category of a minor crime,” said Mayor Toni Iseman. “We’re going to even it out and have something significant enough to stop people from doing the things they’re doing.”
City Manager John Pietig also asked council members for approval to set aside an additional $670,000 from the current year budget for expenses related to the possible acquisition of 1199 Lewellyn Drive, a $1.63 million parcel of land in Laguna Canyon the city voted to buy in December to resolve a potential legal disputes between the property owner and the city.
However, Pietig says possible instability of the Lewellyn hillside above the Sawdust Arts Festival may require more work if the city were to acquire the land.
“If that slope slides it would head down toward Laguna Canyon Road, so now we are looking at substantial remediation costs,” Pietig said. “If the city were to take over that property and acquire it to ensure that it was safe, probably those costs would be in the neighborhood of a million dollars, so we are back attempting to renegotiate the sales price with the owner to address some of the additional cost now that we are aware of it.”
Pietig says the additional $670,000 will come from the Open Space Fund and from monies once intended for a project to improve the turf and drainage system at Alta Laguna Park.
“This is a two-year budget, but as we’ve indicated in the past we will continue to review it about every six months,” Pietig said. “I think that’s worked out well and we’ve been able to make some good financial decisions going forward.”