City Council OKs $30 million budget

The $30 million Seal Beach city budget was passed unanimously and without changes Monday night by the City Council. The financial year ends June 30.

District One Councilwoman Ellery Deaton expressed concern about the city’s habit of spending the reserve funds on projects. Council members discussed a variety of ways to free up funds, but ultimately passed the budget without changes.

In other news, the council during a closed session approved the terms of a settlement of the city’s lawsuit over the removal of 153 trees from Gum Grove Park last year.

Budget highlights

• The 2017-18 budget still anticipates the city taking in $11,000 more than it will spend.

Finance Director Victoria Beatley used the word “cosmetic” to describe recent revisions to the 275-page budget.

• The council discussed hiring two more police officers. Beatley and Police Chief Joe Miller had found funds to pay for two more officers for the first year.

Deaton said she would like to approve hiring two more officers, provided there was no more hiring without a long term plan for funding.

She pointed out there was no money in the budget to hire an oil consultant (to improve the city’s petroleum revenue) and the city was still negotiating the lease for the beach with the State Lands Commission. Mayor Sandra Massa-Lavitt said she had seen projects paid for with 10-year grants and at the end of 10 years, officials were scrambling to find money to keep the programs going.

Resident Dr. Robert Goldberg, the only resident present during the budget hearing, said he agreed with Deaton about not hiring new officers without funding.

• Deaton wanted to talk about the city’s reserves (essentially the city’s savings). “We’re just under $3 million, would that be fair to say?”

Deaton suggested that the city stop paying for CIP projects out of  reserves. “I have a new philosophy on CIP (Capital Improvement Projects)—this is Seal Beach, what can happen? Fires, floods.” She said that, because of the tight budget, this was “a wake up and smell the coffee year.”

• District Two Councilman Thomas Moore suggested moving money for the new city swimming pool to another year because it wasn’t going to be built this year. Beatley said money for the pool project was already set aside.

• Moore also suggested removing the electric charging station project near police headquarters. Beatley advised the council to adopt the budget as presented that night. Staff would bring changes back to the council.

• Goldberg pointed out that money for a new boat for Seal Beach Lifeguards, budgeted at $586,000, wasn’t in the Vehicle Replacement fund for 2017-18.  Beatley said the boat was in the Vehicle Replacement Fund.

In any case, Marine Safety (Lifeguard) Chief Joe Bailey said the boat was scheduled to be delivered in November.

Gum Grove case

In March 2016, 153 trees were cut down in Gum Grove Park directly behind a home owned by Rocky Gentner.

According to a police report, Gentner confirmed having the trees removed on the grounds he believed them to be a fire hazard.

The city demanded $89,000 from Gentner to recover the cost of replacing the trees. Gentner did not meet the city’s deadline. The city filed suit that summer.

This week, the council approved the terms of a settlement to end the lawsuit. After the Monday council meeting, City Attorney Craig Steele said he expected Gentner to sign the agreement this week.

Once signed, he said the settlement would be public record.

The city prosecutor also filed a misdemeanor criminal case accusing Gentner of “unlawful injury to city landscape.”

A pre-trial hearing in the criminal case is scheduled for July 17, according to the Orange County Superior Court website.