H.B. council takes first look at $2.5 million in cuts

A reduction in city staff and some city services is on the table as Huntington Beach officials took a first look at the city’s finances for the upcoming fiscal year.

City Council members at a study session on Monday received an overview of the 2012-13 budget and in the coming weeks will grapple with finding places to save the city money and come up with ways to generate revenue.

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Overall, city staff is proposing about $2.5 million in cuts for the next fiscal year.

Staff is proposing a $293.8 total budget, which is 6 percent down from last year. Huntington Beach’s general fund budget, which includes program costs and employee salaries, is proposed to be $186.2 million, a slight increase from 2011-12.

Over the last four years, 220 positions, 183 of those full-time, have been eliminated.

This year, staff proposes cutting nearly 22 positions: 12 full-time and 10.75 part-time.

The Art Center curator position, which would save about $90,000, is on the chopping block along with two sworn police officer positions, which would save about $410,000, city staff said.

Public Works is proposing to reduce citywide maintenance, which would affect parks and other landscaping. Libraries are proposing to buy fewer books for their shelves and reduce database subscriptions. The Fire Department proposes to make its deputy fire marshal a civilian position.

City staff is also coming up with a detailed report on what Huntington Beach is keeping that will be reviewed at a later study session.

Mayor Don Hansen suggested looking at outsourcing the City Attorney’s office and whether contracting with outside firms could save dollars.

The City Attorney is an elected position and cannot be outsourced, but legal services can

“If you look at that budget, it’s 100 percent salaries and offices,” Hansen said. “It doesn’t hurt to test the waters.”

Councilman Joe Shaw said they’ve already spent money on charter changes and an evaluation of the City Attorney’s office, which he called “political maneuvering.” He said he objected to spending more money to study outsourcing.

“Now we’re going to spend some more money on another vendetta against the City Attorney,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be a purpose to it. I don’t really believe we’ll save money.”

Councilwoman Connie Boardman said instead of finding a way to reduce a small piece of the city’s financial pie, the city should look at ways to generate revenue.

“I just think it’s interesting that we’re picking on a department that makes up 1 percent of the budget,” she said.

But the other council members said it’s not personal, just an exercise to look at a possible way to save the city money.

“We all have our own opinions… it’s becoming particular tired to use anything you disagree with and say it is solely political or solely a vendetta,” Hansen said. “Everybody is accountable now. I’m more than happy to put any and all departments on the table.”

Boardman said she wants to see some of the $2.6 million the city puts in reserves when it has a surplus to save some of these jobs and services.

“I keep going back to that $2.6 million,” she said. “How bad does it have to get before we’re willing to use some of that money?”

But other council members said they wanted to stick to the city’s policy to put that money in reserves because the future is too uncertain to tap into it.

There was some good news among the cuts, including the reinstatement of three police officer positions that were initially on the chopping block and the proposed allocation of $3.8 million for infrastructure improvements.

The city is facing other unique challenges beyond economic constraints, including the loss of the Redevelopment Agency and city pension issues, which is expected to be discussed at a future study session.

The council plans to meet twice more to discuss the budget in August and officials hope to have the budget approved by Sept. 4.

714-796-7953 or jfletcher@ocregister.com

H.B. council takes first look at $2.5 million in cuts

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