City faces tough choices on next budget

Spending on Seal Beach’s beloved annual special events could be altered. Residents could be asked to pay higher fees. Local seniors may need to find a new way to get around town. The beach and public restrooms could be cleaned less often.

These are just a few examples of the issues the city of Seal Beach City Council will consider when it votes on adopting a budget for fiscal year 2018-2019.

“When we slash and burn to the service level we’re talking about, people are going to notice it,” District One Councilwoman Ellery Deaton said during the last of two public budget workshops held last week.

The city’s challenging financial situation was examined during the hours-long meetings at Council Chambers last Tuesday and Thursday. That’s where city staff presented a draft budget with an estimated $832,300 General Fund budget shortfall for the next fiscal year which starts July 1. Department heads, council members and residents discussed ways to ease the deficit during the workshops. City staff is now using those discussions to create a new revised budget that will be presented to council for adoption at the June 11 council meeting.

Cost-cutting proposals

Every department presented ideas to cut costs during the budget workshops. Here is a closer look at some of the proposals.

Costs of community events

They are treasured by Seal Beach residents and visitors, but some of the most popular community events and holidays in town, such as the Christmas Parade, the Classic Car Show, Run Seal Beach, St. Patrick’s Day and others, are being looked at in light of their costs and the city’s tight budget.

At the budget workshop, Interim Police Chief Joe Miller discussed how the police department deploys extra officers, some working overtime, during these special events. The personnel costs for the department for the events is approximately $52,000 a year.

“This is not going to be an easy discussion but it’s definitely something we need to think about and that’s the amount of money that the city spends on in-kind services to ensure that everybody in the city has a great time but it does come with a cost,” Finance Director Vikki Beatley said.

Councilwoman Deaton said she thought the issue should be discussed by the community and decided by the community but with guidance from city staff.

“We’re going to make some hard decisions,” Deaton said. “But I think what we should do is get a dollar amount from the city as to what they feel is a reasonable amount [to spend] and then call the groups in and the community in and say, ‘OK, let’s decide what we’re going to do here.’”

“I don’t know how it’s going to get done, but it’s got to be a work of art between both sides,” District Five Councilwoman Sandra Massa-Lavitt said.

“I don’t know if looking at the financial perspective is the right way to look at it,” City Manager Jill Ingram said. Ingram said there could be a way to get groups to help offset the city’s costs for some popular events and cited the Band on the Sand event as a model. The July event has a special event permit and organizers pay for police, public works and lifeguards, Ingram said.

Senior transportation

The city currently offers a Dial-A-Ride service and shuttles that transport passengers to get senior meals at the North Seal Beach Center or to go shopping in Old Town or The Shops at Rossmoor on weekdays. The annual cost of the three services is $210,000 with $120,000 of the cost paid from the city’s General Fund, according to a presentation at the budget workshop last Thursday.

More than 14,000 passengers used the shuttle services in 2016-2017 and there were more than 9,100 Dial-A-Ride trips taken for the same period. City staff proposed three different ideas to save money: reduce the hours of the Dial-A-Ride and shuttle services, eliminate the Thursday Shopper Shuttle or completely eliminate the Dial-A-Ride service and Shopper Shuttle and only keep the senior meals shuttle. The savings ranged from $20,000 to $120,000 a year.

Most council members were open to making adjustments to the program to save money. District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic said she’d like to see senior transportation programs continued but added “some trimming could be possible.”

“To get seniors to their meals is a health, wellness and safety issue and I think that we need to get them to their senior meals,” Councilwoman Deaton said and added that seniors also need to get to medical appointments but didn’t see the same need for seniors to go shopping.

Councilwoman Massa-Lavitt, who represents part of Leisure World, said Leisure World would probably step up to fill in some transportation needs. To help seniors stay mobile if cuts were made, staff suggested using a program funded by Orange County’s Office on Aging called Senior Non-Emergency Medical Transportation or SNEMT, which allows residents age 60 and older to get a ride to and from non-emergency medical appointments. There is a $2 “donation” per trip.

Tree trimming

The city’s contract for tree trimming will expire at the end of June so staff is proposing to seek out a new contract with reduced scope to save around $50,000 a year. The proposal is to go from trimming all palm trees annually to only trimming queen palms annually and fan palms every other year. The city’s other 5,041 trees would be trimmed on an as-needed basis. “Where we’re going to be trimming from is mainly from a point of view of a reduction of liability as opposed to what looks better,” Recreation Manager Tim Kelsey said, adding, “This is something that the residents will feel.”

It could also cost residents more for tree trimming. According to Beatley, property owners pay about fifty cents a month to cover tree trimming which generates around $39,000 a year. But the contracted cost to trim trees is around $150,000. (That cost could change with a new contract as explained above.) In order to raise the tree-trimming fee the city would have to mail out ballots to property owners to vote on a fee hike under what is known as Proposition 218. It’s not clear what the fee increase would be but a majority of property owners would have to vote against it for it to fail, according to Beatley. A similar ballot process could be implemented to raise street sweeping fees which are about $1 a month right now and only generate less than half of what the city pays for the service.

The idea to raise these fees received support from most council members during the workshop.

Public restrooms and building cleaning

The city currently pays $220,000 a year for janitorial services but the contract expires in December. The city is proposing to reduce the scope of service when it seeks bids for a new contract to save about $100,000.

Right now, city facilities are cleaned on a daily basis. Under the new proposal, they would be cleaned three times a week.

Beach restrooms would be cleaned multiple times a day during peak season but that cleaning would be reduced to once a day during the off-season.

Recreation Manager Tim Kelsey cautioned that this is an estimate to the service reductions and the city won’t know the exact scope until the actual contract is bid out.

Beach maintenance

The Department of Public Works is looking to save up to $60,000 a year by reducing how often the beach is groomed with a machine from seven to five days a week. Workers will still pick up trash by hand and empty beach trash cans seven days a week.

The grooming schedule can be altered if there is a storm or a need for cleaning.

Discretionary funds

Each of the five city council members receives $20,000 a year to spend on needs in their respective districts. City staff recommends cutting these funds. Each council member expressed support to cut or freeze the discretionary funding for the next fiscal year.