Seal Beach Finance Director Victoria Beatley told the City Council recently that staff expects the city to have a surplus of $11,000 at the end of the next financial year. That’s out of a budget more than $30 million.
The council is scheduled to vote on the 2017-18 budget on Monday, June 26. Last Wednesday, the council held a special budget study session to review the proposed budget.
“It’s going to be challenging for the next two years,” she said.
The chiefs of the Police and Marine Safety departments both want more officers. Those requests are not part of the proposed budget. Councilwoman Ellery Deaton asked for staff to come back with a plan to hire two more police officers and pay for overtime costs.
According to Interim Police Chief Joe Miller, the Police Department has exceeded the current overtime budget.
Finance Director Beatley told the council that oil revenues are down, franchise fees are down and CalPERS costs have increased. According to Beatley, the budget has $27,000 in undesignated funds.
She pointed out that there were other one-time costs this past year, such as flooding during the recent winter storms.
Beatley said that for the first time in years, the city has set aside 20 percent of its budget as a reserve. According to Beatley, that’s about $14.5 million.
“I think this is the most stressed budget I’ve ever seen,” said Robert Goldberg, Seal Beach resident and budget watcher.
Among the measures the Finance Department has recommended to deal with the budget:
• A hiring freeze on two positions in the Public Works Department and leaving the job of Community Development Director vacant for six months. According to Beatley, the combined savings for leaving those positions open would be about $445,000.
Goldberg, however, said not having a Community Development Director was not sustainable.
• The city will not issue cash grants this year. Only in-kind requests will be granted.
Beatley said the Police Department represents about 35 percent of the overall budget. “The City of Seal Beach is very lucky in many ways that the number is under 35 percent,” she said. She pointed out that in other cities, the police budget is 75 percent of the budget — and in some cities, it is 100 percent of the budget.
According to Chief Miller, the department had an overtime budget of $200,000 this year. He put the projected overtime costs at $425,000. Chief Miller pointed out that there have been nine robberies in Seal Beach so far this year — and one detective to investigate them. Miller also pointed out that Laguna Beach, with a similar population, had (he believed) 55 officers to Seal Beach’s current 33 officers.
“We’ve been calling people and saying ‘We have no choice, you’re coming in,’” Miller said.
Miller pointed out that when a significant accident takes place, two or three officers must cover the incident.
“We’re trying to provide a service, we’re trying to protect the public, but at some point you need to add bodies,” Miller said.
Beatley said she and Miller had discussed giving the overtime budget back to pay for two more officers.
“I really like the idea of trying to reduce overtime,” Deaton said.
However, Deaton said she was concerned about using overtime money to pay for more officers because the city would still need to pay overtime.
Deaton spoke from a unique perspective: she said her husband used to do the budget for the Los Angles Police Department.
Deaton asked for a plan to pay for officers and overtime.
However, she also told Marine Safety Chief Joe Bailey that “we heard you. We didn’t ignore you.”
However, there was no discussion of paying for more Lifeguards last week.
Orange County Fire Authority
Another issue the council looked at was the cost of fire protection. Seal Beach is one of eight cities that has money taken directly from the General Fund whenever the Orange County Fire Authority raises its fees.
Other Orange County cities have their fire protection billed directly to property owners on their property tax bill.
City Manager Jill Ingram said that the city was told that because of the complexities of the property tax system, it would be impossible for the city to change to have the contract directly paid by property tax bills.
Deaton pointed out that the city’s contract with the Fire Authority has a 4.5 percent escalator that is not tied to the Consumer Price Index.
“I’m concerned that it was a terrible contract that should not have been entered into,” she said.
Deaton said she would like to renew the call for the city to look at other options for fire service.
Seal Beach doesn’t have a lot of time to look at those options. Deaton pointed out that, by contract, if the city wants to pull out, the city must give notice to the OCFA by 2018.