Tuesday, May 16, 2006

City Budget Transformative Ideas

The Laguna Beach City budget needs a vision. Thanks to the destination visitors at the Montage, there is an increase in Bed Tax producing an additional $2.7 million discretionary revenue available to spend. So this is the year for transformative ideas.

Most budgets are just more of the same lacking any new ideas. This is not to blame the City Council as typically there is no money available to make any exciting transformative change. Unfortunately, even cost saving ideas over the long term, typically cost a significant amount upfront.

For example, Steve Dicterow is now on the Council for his twelfth year and each and every year, the new budget just authorizes pretty much what the past one did. Since 1994 (and the County declaring bankruptcy) the City’s property tax revenue has gone from $6 million to $20 million per year, so one would think that there was plenty of money. But the City’s employee fringe benefits have risen out of control as increased City revenues have been consistently consumed by City employee workman’s comp, health care and pension costs.

The Transit Occupancy tax is discretionary revenue which the City Council has the responsibility and the authority to spend in the manner deemed by it to be best. Using this money, and perhaps the ongoing $3.2 million per year steam of revenue, transformative change could occur. Does anyone have an idea?

Using this money, and perhaps the $3.2 million per year steam of revenue, transformative change could occur. Some ideas might be:
Effectively widen sidewalks by removing most parking meter poles
- Improve pedestrian experience, and look of City Council
- Move from collecting parking charges from quarters to electronic collection via credit cards
- Not such thing as feeding the meter, improving circulation
- Not such thing as time on the meter being used by the next car
- Reduce headcount necessary to collect parking money

Purchase Paramedic Vans
- 85% of Fire Department calls are Paramedic
- City knows send three personnel in a $500, 000 fire engine
- Could respond with two personnel in a $100,000 paramedic van
- Reduce wearing out $500,000 fire engines
- Response times would be a bit faster

Consolidate Agate and South Laguna Fire Stations
- If there was a time to close two fire stations and build a better one in between those locations, this budget is the opportunity to do so.

Buy-Out City Employee Defined Benefit Pension Plans
- Laguna Beach taxpayers increasingly work until 65 saving for retirement through IRAs, 401K and other defined contribution plans
- City employees can retire at 55 with Safety employees going to be able to retire at 50
- Laguna Beach taxpayers pay City portion, and also pays employee portion of pension contributions
- When stock market goes, Laguna Beach taxpayers have to pay more so defined benefit pension can be guaranteed


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