About 30 Santa Ana residents turned out for a budget forum required under the city’s sunshine ordinance and received a quick update on the 2013-14 fiscal year’s first-quarter results.

Major general-fund revenue sources — including sales and property taxes, property tax in lieu of vehicle license fees, utility users tax, business license and hotel visitors taxes — show signs of improvement. However, the overall general-fund revenue is $1.3 million lower than the same quarter last fiscal year.

The improving picture notwithstanding, city officials cautioned that it’s too difficult to tell whether the trend will last, because only 10-11 percent of general-fund revenue typically arrives in the first quarter. The big property and sales tax revenue infusions typically come twice a year, the next one coming in December.

Expenditures were $925,000 or 2 percent higher than the same quarter last fiscal year due to rising retirement costs and the end of labor concessions such as furloughs, according to a city handout.

Meanwhile, residents questioned when they would receive answers about the city’s jail. And a few artists asked for new revenue streams and greater support for the arts in the city, given the catalyst for downtown renewal that the artists have provided.

Artists said that the $900 pay being offered to paint local power boxes was simply too low.

“We brought back the city from basically a graveyard,” said artist Skeith De Wyne. “In my world, that comes down to less than what a Walmart employee makes.”

Some residents said that while turnout was lower at the forum than a recent scoping session on the city’s five-year strategic plan, the sunshine ordinance has led to more collaboration with city leaders on the crafting of city policy. Hopefully, that collaboration will translate into a change in city services, they said.

“There’s sort of the beginning of a dialogue starting,” said Madeline Spencer, a member of Santa Ana Collaborative for Responsible Development, which lobbied for the sunshine ordinance a year ago.

Others said that the cost of staff time for holding such meetings was too high when the turnout is around 30.

“It costs money. Where does it come from?” Said Peter Katz, a city resident of over 40 years. “Look at the kind of turnout you get.”

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

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