The city of Irvine officially kicked of its budget season Monday night, as City Manager Sean Joyce presented a balanced budget to the finance commission that revealed a smaller budget gap than in recent years.
A plan to cover the budget deficit for fiscal year 2011-12, which stands at about $7 million, includes the tapping of $4.5 million in reserves and the use of other fund sources, like a discretionary fund available from an agreement attached to the expansion of the Bowerman Landfill.
The city is in the third and final year of the three-year bridge plan, which Joyce designed to move the city through the bottom years of the Great Recession by tapping rainy-day reserve funds and making targeted cuts.
A major concern about the bridge plan has been the level of rainy-day reserves and whether the city would be able to lean on them without tapping them dry.
But Irvine experienced an unexpected uptick in sales tax and hotel bad tax revenues in this past fiscal year, and the city plans on having $9 million in rainy day reserves at the end of the next fiscal year.
“It’s kinda hard to be unhappy,” said Finance Commission Chairman Don Dressler. “A year ago it looked like we were going to be tapped out.”
Although the commission was generally pleased with the presented budget, they did have a few tough questions.
Dressler asked Joyce what important things he couldn’t do because of the budget constraints.
Joyce responded that the biggest challenge going into the future will be to assure that the city’s police department has enough staff to serve the city at the level Irvine residents are used to.
“I think the greatest need that will manifest as we come out of the recession in reality, will be the need to make sure we’ve got law enforcement staffing where we’ll be in an ideal situation,” Joyce said.
Commissioner John Duong questioned the city’s funding for organizations like the Orange County Human Relations Commission and whether such funding constituted a “core service.” He also questioned the staffing of the city’s communications team, which he called “top heavy.”
Joyce said he did believe the human relations commission provided a core service because it provides resources in disputes between neighbors that he considered valuable.
As for communications with the city, Joyce said it was a high priority to communicate with city residents. Efforts at outreach include videos for the city’s television broadcasts and a community newsletter residents receive in the mail.
“It’s a big endeavor, there’s a lot that we produce, it doesn’t happen by accident,” Joyce said.
Also looming over the discussion was recent news that retired Great Park Finance Manager Kurt Mowery might be able to double dip by being a contractor with the city while receiving his pension.
Dressler indicated that he was going to eventually move for a suggestion to City Council that the city move into a new retirement plan for new hires.
But, Dressler emphasized, he only pointed at the Mowery situation to illustrate the problem. Dressler said he’s been pushing a different retirement plan for new hires long before news of the potential double-dip. The Mowery situation, Dressler said, was just an “illustration of what the costs are” to the city.
“You can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Dressler said.
The finance commission will continue to deliberate on the budget and come up with its first set of budget recommendations for the council at the end of this month, Dressler said.
Council will then have to approve the budget before July 1, which is the start of the next fiscal year.
— ADAM ELMAHREK
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