Garden Grove Council Passes Budget That Strains City Resources

The Garden Grove City Council Tuesday approved a $218-million budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year that includes millions in new spending even though the city’s projected revenues are expected to fall more than $4 million short of its expenses.

The $3.05 million in new budget requests includes the hiring of five additional police officers, funding for the city’s cable television program, park maintenance and the cost of adding two new city council members.

As they have done in recent years, city leaders will likely again use one-time fixes to cover their deficit, including land sales and taking from funds set aside for worker’s compensation and property tax lawsuits.

Mayor Bao Nguyen expressed concern that the city has too often relied on one-time measures to balance its budget.

“I just want everyone to know we are in trouble and…just based on the numbers, I don’t see us going into the black any time soon,” Nguyen said.

In Garden Grove, like neighboring Santa Ana, public safety costs have been at the forefront of this year’s budget debate, with many residents, the police union, and police chief Todd Elgin lobbying the City Council to hire more sworn officers.

The city has reported a 45 percent increase in crime between 2014 and 2015, according to data compiled by the Orange County Register, which is among the highest increases countywide.

Police agencies across the state have blamed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison reform programs, known as Prop. 47, as a driving force behind increased crime, although that claim has yet to be proven by research.

A recent proposal by Nguyen to lift a ban on marijuana dispensaries in favor of taxation and regulation also prompted an outcry from residents concerned about whether such a policy would exacerbate crime issues and drug use among youth. Yet, despite the ban staying in place, it is not enforced and dispensaries continue to operate illegally, according to Elgin.

City staff’s initial proposed budget would have reduced the deficit from $5.6 to $3.9 million, and included the hiring of three police officers. Council members, however, pushed for two more officers, bringing the projected deficit back up to $4.27 million.

The five new hires will bring the number of sworn police staff up to 166, which both Elgin and union leaders say is still 23 fewer than the countywide average for officers per 1,000 residents.

Elgin says injuries and upcoming retirements mean the department is often short and frequently requires officers to work overtime.

It is probably unrealistic to expect the city to hire 23 officers, especially given that expenses continue to rise at a faster rate than revenue is coming in, said finance director and assistant city manager Kingsley Okereke.

Hiring five new officers will cost $904,427 this coming fiscal year, an amount that could increase each year as pension rates are expected to keep rising, Okereke said. Public safety already makes up 68 percent of the city’s basic services budget, a ratio similar to most cities across the state.

City officials are largely banking on the promise of new tax dollars from new hotel and economic development projects, such as the Great Wolf Resort Waterpark Hotel which opened earlier this year.

Staff estimates that hotel bed tax revenue will rise from $19.5 million this fiscal year to $29.2 million by 2020.

“Some of those projects could come alive and infuse additional revenue into our coffers,” said Okereke. “[But] if expenditures continue to grow at the rate they have been for the past few years, it would be tough to get into the black. I’m cautiously optimistic.”

At a budget session earlier this month, council members floated the possibility of a public safety tax or increasing fees to fund public safety costs, although neither proposal was discussed in detail.

“It’s been ten years that we haven’t increased fees…if we had a proactive plan [for public safety] we’d be at a much better place,” said Councilman Phat Bui at the budget session.

City Manager Scott Stiles says he hopes to develop a plan to hire four more officers within the next two years.

Responding to a reporter’s question, Stiles said the city has not discussed alternatives to reduce crime aside from hiring additional officers.

In addition to new police officers, the City Council approved a number of new spending requests, including:

  • A new administrative analyst in the City Manager’s office
  • $7,500 toward translation and bilingual services
  • $60,000 for annual Garden Grove Open Streets event
  • $83,000 in tablet and software costs for Police Department
  • $26,984 in funding for two additional council members, as part of the districting process

It’s still unclear whether the city will save money by severing its contract with Orange County Animal Care.

The City Council voted in April to end the contract, not only because of the increasing annual contract costs but also because the county was requiring that the city pitch in another $4.1 million for its build a new county animal shelter.

Compared to the $1.3 million cost of the county contract for the 2015-16 fiscal year, the city expects to spend more than $1.3 million in 2016-17 for initial start-up costs and $878,360 each year after that.

They’re hoping to get back $400,000 in revenue from the fees residents pay to get their dogs and cats licensed.

Resident Josh McIntosh suggested city employees who live outside the city take a 15 percent pay cut to reduce budget pressure and make room for public safety increases. Employees who live in Garden Grove and pay taxes there receive a 10 percent pay cut, McIntosh said.

“I didn’t like it either when it happened to me in 2010, a few months after I purchased a new home,” he said. “Our city employees make a pretty decent living, especially considered the income of the average resident.”

Although it won’t go into effect until the 2017-18 fiscal year, the City Council also voted Tuesday for a $200 monthly vehicle stipend for council members.

Resident Maureen Blackmun said she felt the council was underpaid.

“I think when you’re underpaid, you find other ways to make up for that,” said Blackmun. “There should be a salary increase, and if not that, a vehicle stipend.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

  • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

    Geezus. No wonder some staffers look down on us residents and have such attitude. We are f-en serfs.

  • Roderick Powell

    Maureen Blackmun…this city council has cost this city millions of dollars. Just look at the Barlag/Jeremy Broadwater goings on. This city council has bullied our police into not enforcing the current marijuana shops policy. (which is THEY ARE BANNED—$1,000 A DAY FINE) And you think they deserve a raise? Tell me even one thing they have done that has benefited this city. Silly Council is what we have ever since Andrew Do invaded our city as a means toward gerrymandered riches.

  • Josh McIntosh

    If you’re interested in what our city is paying our city staff, here is a link to the salaries. As I stated in my city council speech, I am not asking them to do anything I have not done and would not be willing to do again. If we cannot afford to hire the police officers needed then we may need to tighten our belts and reconsider how we are spending taxpayer dollars. Giving away valuable land on Harbor Blvd is a start. Subsidizing hotels for over 25 years is another. I recognize the hotels are a huge tax base but the contracts we award them could be a lot better if they were negotiated with our budget in mind. Maybe we should negotiate a lower starting wage for officers (and all staff) until we are back on our feet. Per the budget presentation we were invited to, a new police officer starts between $165 – $185,000.00 a year. We have a lot of millionaires working for the city, while the the income per capita is $20,918, which includes all adults and children. The median household income is $59,988 per Best Places.Net

    http://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/garden-grove/

    • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

      And yet we allocate precious few resources that are available to help the criminal homeless with their entitled SSI or SDI salaries that they then waste away on drugs and booze.

      What about the good citizens who have homes, water their trees, help each other out in their neighborhoods making staff time and effort a lot lighter, or zero, and pay taxes dutifully that provide for these 6-figure salaries to exist?

      Chosen few. Greater good.
      Chosen few at the greater good’s huge expense, present cost and future cost.
      Very tiring …. this …. decade, after decade, after decade.
      But every city does it. So there you are. Justified.

  • Roderick Powell

    Maureen Blackmun…sounds like you are promoting doing something that everyone should know is not right. You are underpaid…so you say “the heck with that, we’ll show you…we’ll get what we deserve”…and this is what you feel is right? Two supposed wrongs make it right. Scary logic!