Vista cuts budget, worries about future

VISTA — For the second quarter in a row, Vista’s economic team has revised revenue estimates downward and recommended appropriate cuts. City Council unanimously followed staff recommendations, cutting approximately $1.3 million in appropriations Feb. 9.
“Anyone who’s been reading the newspaper lately, it’s no secret that our economy both locally and nationwide is in some dire straights right now,” City Finance Manager Dale Nielsen said as he began his report.
It wasn’t so bad last quarter despite a $1.1 million drop in revenue, largely thanks to the redevelopment agency’s repayment of a $600,000 loan. But in the second quarter, ending Dec. 31, 2008, revenue was down another $1.3 million. The city manager and the finance department scoured every department trying to spread savings as evenly as possible, Nielsen said.
Some of the cuts will not have an immediate impact because they reflect budgeted money for which there is no planned use. The single largest cut expenditure, the nearly $400,000 budgeted for expansion of the Redflex stoplight camera network, will not affect basic operations. Nor will the $51,000 cut from the fire budget for an extraction system. That money is now being provided by a grant from the state.
The city is cutting $80,000 from its outside plan checking service and $150,000 from its development code update. Nielsen explained that with the economy down, development is down. While the city will generate less revenue from construction, it also has to spend less to handle it.
Finance Director Tom Garder stressed that none of the Proposition L sales tax funded projects are affected, including two firehouses, a new theater, a sports park and City Hall.
“Prop. L funds are accounted for separately,” he said. “It’s isolated, we track it individually, and it’s spent only on those projects approved by the voters of this city”
Gardner cautioned that the city will feel the pinch next year, however, when the funds won’t exist to fill 24 vacant staff slots. Some capital outlays will be delayed, too. And there is no way to predict how long the crisis will last or how hard it will hit.
“I think our greatest problem this year is (that) the quickness with which changes have occurred has been unlike any other year,” Gardner said. “What we thought was reasonable three months ago has now changed.”
The council followed its approval of the revised budget with a unanimous approval of the new capital improvements budget of $100 million — down from $102 million. Casualties included four planned traffic signals.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. City Engineer Larry Pierce reported that the television inspection of the sewers revealed that the network was in far better shape than anticipated. He said that the $51 million allocated from the capital improvement budget for sewer repairs would go a lot further.
“It just gives us more opportunity to do more sooner, thus reducing our risk of spills,” Pierce said.

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