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The Santa Ana City Council last week approved a general fund budget that is by all indicators the most healthy it’s been since the onset of the Great Recession, with money for hiring new city employees and giving raises to existing ones.

The $226 million-spending plan for fiscal year 2015-16 includes an expected 8.8 percent increase in the city’s top six revenue sources such as sales and property taxes.

Among other things, the new money will be spent on seven additional police officers and staffing for officers to wear proposed body cameras. The budget also includes about 20 other new employees, including, at Mayor Miguel Pulido’s request, a senior planner and a principal planner to help with processing a crush of development applications.

Such spending was inconceivable to city leaders just a few years ago, when they were dealing with massive budget deficits and teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, a reality brought on by the cratering of the economy.

That being said, not every request was granted.

A proposed labor relations manager was scrapped after Councilman Sal Tinajero had earlier objected to the over $200,000 cost of the position and argued that outsourcing the work would save well over $100,000.

Other requested budget changes made by council members include $150,000 each for downtown wayfinding signs and economic development.

Council members were first scheduled to approve the budget at their June 2 meeting, but Pulido had requested postponing the approval for two weeks to include council members’ suggested tweaks.

Among other notable spending:

  • City employees are also set to receive cost of living raises, with $2.55 million allocated.
  • The city will be spending over $300,000 on expanding and additional books and materials.
  • An allocation of $140,000 for city-sponsored events.
  • The formation of a city youth commission, which will cost about $25,000.
  • The city clerk’s office will receive $50,000 for temporary help in processing public records requests.

In addition to the increased spending, city officials are also expecting a surplus from the current fiscal year of between $10 million and $12 million.

During the June 2 meeting, Councilwoman Michele Martinez, while pleased with several elements of the budget, expressed dismay at city staff circumventing council members when $2.1 million previously allocated to update the city’s aging general plan and zoning plan instead went toward the city’s reserves.

“This city council at the end of the day has the fiduciary responsibility, and we also made commitments to the public that we were going to do certain things, ” Martinez said. “I just hope we will strive to be as transparent as possible and be equitable.”

Martinez also said she wants to see city officials engage in “participatory budgeting,” whereby residents are asked to formulate their priorities for the planned spending. She said that wasn’t done with the $68 million capital improvements budget, which is separate from the general fund and focuses on the city’s infrastructure.

“As we move forward I think its imperative that we move toward participatory budgeting,” Martinez said. “We want to continue to empower and engage our residents.”

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

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