Santa Ana Council Approves Healthy Budget

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The Santa Ana City Council Tuesday night approved the 2016-17 fiscal year budget, a $229 million spending plan that includes funding for more police officers, park improvements, and extended hours for community centers, among other things.

Council members sped through the budget approval so they could make it to primary election night festivities. But they did make a few tweaks before heading out the door.

The biggest change was a $250,000 allocation toward a joint use agreement with Santa Ana Unified School District proposed by Councilman Roman Reyna. Under the pilot program, the city would help pay to keep a school campus open to the general public between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. and provide a slew of classroom spaces for nonprofits.

Reyna called the proposal a “game changer” for the city. “This could fundamentally change the way the city and the school district operate,” Reyna told a reporter after the meeting. “I’m elated like you have no idea.”

There were two other changes to the budget that were a little more controversial, including $100,000 toward construction of two new courts at the Cabrillo Tennis Center and an additional $75,000 for staffing at the city clerk’s office.

Mayor Miguel Pulido has for years been trying to secure funding for the courts. In 2011, the council shot down a request for over $500,000 toward the courts, allocating the funds instead to improving a public square on Fourth Street. And last year, money requested for the courts was instead directed towards assistance for homeless people.

But, after flirting with bankruptcy in 2011 and 2012, the city’s budget picture has improved considerably in recent years. Because of the brighter picture, and Councilman Vincent Sarmiento was comfortable in voicing support for spending $100,000 toward construction of the courts.

The vote on funding the courts passed 4-2, with council members Reyna and Sal Tinajero voting no. Pulido, Sarmiento and council members David Benavides and Angelica Amezcua voted yes. Councilwoman Michele Martinez was absent, having left before the vote to attend election night events and celebrate her second-place showing in the First District county supervisorial primary.

Meanwhile, the vote on additional funding for the clerk’s office passed 5-1, with Tinajero voting no. City Clerk Maria Huizar asked for the funds to create a deputy city clerk position and upgrade the classification of an existing staffer. Huizar said she needs the extra help for voter outreach initiatives.

Tinajero alluded to the clerk’s office possibly doing work outside the scope of the department and said he would support the funding request if that wasn’t the case. But he said he couldn’t vote yes on the funding request until he received that assurance.

“There are some serious concerns we have to discuss as a council before we start expanding that department,” Tinajero said.

He wasn’t clear on what those concerns were, but said the council should talk about them in the future.

Other notable expenditures and assumptions in Cavazos’ budget presentations include:

*$2.5 million for 16 police officers, including 10 positions funded through the COPs grant and another six officers dedicated to community policing.

*$550,000Funding for the Orange County Animal Shelter.

*$400,000 for a cultural amphitheater at Santiago Park.

*$214,000 for “security services enhancements at the city’s main library.”

*$500,000 for a “pension stability fund,” an increase in the “economic uncertainty fund” – essentially an extra reserve – from $1 million to $3 million, and $1 million for a “jail revenue stability account.”

*$2.7 million for a 2.5 percent salary increase for city employees.

*$3 million for economic development initiatives and infrastructure projects, including $400,000 in improvements at the Santa Ana train station and $400,000 each for the downtown, Harbor Blvd., Seventeenth st., and South Main st. business corridors.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek