Fullerton Council Dips Into Reserves to Pass Budget

The Fullerton City Council has approved a $186-million budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year that requires the city to dip into reserves to pay for the hiring of five more police officers and a raise for firefighters.

The city, which operates on a two-year budget cycle, will be spending at least 71 percent of general funds on its police and fire departments, while spending just over 10 percent on parks and libraries. Of the $4.7 million increase to salaries and benefits in the revised budget, $3.6 million is going into the police and fire departments.

To balance the budget, the city will take $5 million from general fund reserves, leaving it with $33.5 million in the reserve account. City officials plan to replenish the fund by selling a fire station property on Yorba Linda Boulevard for at least $4 million.

In addition to spending more on salaries, the city has increased payments into its pension fund to reduce its unfunded pension liability. To save money in the future, it has capped retiree medical for new hires at $200 a month and implemented 50/50 cost sharing on health insurance premium increases, according to the budget presentation.

On the revenue side, the newly adopted budget forecasts an increase in property tax from just under $38 million to $39.2 million. Outside the anticipated $4 million from the fire station sale, moderate increases are expected from other revenue sources, with a notable increase to charges for service, which is up from $5.18 million to $5.53 million.

While the majority of the council was satisfied with the budget when it was passed at a council meeting last month, Councilman Bruce Whitaker chastised his constituents’ priorities during council deliberations.

“The real priorities here, in the near-term, are to fund payroll increases and pensions,” Whitaker said, adding that he didn’t like the city’s reliance on increasing tax revenue and the one-time property sale. “The concern that I have is, once again, the structural makeup of our revenue sources. It’s relying on squeezing our constituents for more and more revenue.”

Councilman Doug Chaffee defended the city’s budget against Whitaker’s remarks.

Chaffee said that the budget was “mostly good news,” and he countered Whitaker’s tax claim. “There’s really no new taxes,” Chaffee said, who added that property values in the city have been climbing.

“Unfunded liabilities are being addressed. It’s a long term process to get those things down to zero,” Chaffee said. “This is really just a second year of a budget we’ve approved before.”

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern. He can be reached at spencercustodio@gmail.com.