Huntington Beach

Questions and answers on budget woes

HUNTINGTON BEACH City Council members listen to report about possible budgets deficit solutions at a study session on Monday (Orange County Tribune photo).

By Jim Tortolano

There were more questions than answers as the Huntington Beach City Council and the city finance commission met in study session Monday afternoon to consider ways to meet a budget deficit projected to last for years.

Brought on in large part by the increasing costs associated with pensions for city employees, the predicted red ink could range from $1.1 million to $2.8 million per year annually over a five-year period.

But Councilman Patrick Brendan brought out a sobering point. Don’t the PERS (Public Employees Retirement System] costs project a $4 million-increase in cost, annually?

He was told that the deficits in the report assume that the previous year’s budget had been balanced.

City Manager Fred Wilson held out some hope. “We will be seeing some very significant revenue growth,” he said.

In the session, the council and commission pored over a variety of possible fixes for the red ink, ranging from taxes to slashing overtime in police and fire budgets. Questions raised included:

  • Was it more cost-effective to hire more police and firefighters than pay large amounts of overtime?
  • Can community service officers (typical annual cost $100,000) take over some of the tasks performed by sworn police officers (typical annual cost of $250,000)?
  • One of the possible sources of revenue could be taxes on marijuana sales. Councilman Erik Peterson raised the issue of the federal government still considering “pot” to be an illegal hallucinogen. And “how can income be reported when it’s a cash only business?” he asked.
  • Increased fines for illegal “short-term rentals” – of which there are an estimated 700 in Surf City – of up to $5000 for a third offense. However, there’s some doubt that the city has enough code enforcement officers to enforce a crackdown.

It being a study session, the council made no decisions on any of the alternatives.

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