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Cocos fire may cost San Marcos $1 million

SAN MARCOS — San Marcos will likely have to shell out $1 million to pay for its share of the cost to fight the Cocos fire, city officials said during Tuesday’s council meeting.

The City Council voted, in connection with the approval of next year’s $100 million operating budget, to pay for the fire cost out of its anticipated $1.8 million surplus from the current fiscal year.

“The budget addresses the anticipated worst case scenario of fire-related costs,” said City Manager Jack Griffin, who said the city should find out the exact amount it will have to pay later in the week.

Officials originally said in late May that the cost to fight last month’s fire, which charred more than 2,000 acres, would be upwards of $10 million and that the city’s share of the cost could be as much as $2 million.

City officials expect federal emergency funds will cover 75 percent of the total bill. Future costs, such as stabilizing fire-charred slopes and erosion control, could further eat into the city’s reserves, according to the budget report.

“As the fire occurred in May and the risk of wildfires will grow through the summer and fall, keeping some flexibility in place makes fiscal sense,” the staff report stated.

The Council unanimously approved the budget, which includes $63.7 million for general fund operations, about half of which will pay for the city’s contract with the Sheriff’s department and fire operations.

City officials said personnel costs have dropped during the past few years due to city pension reform efforts and staff attrition.

The budget calls for sales and property tax revenue to steadily climb from its recession level lows, though officials said they are forecasting a more conservative growth than the increases they’ve seen during the past year.

Sales tax revenue grew nearly 7 percent from 2013 to 2014, but the budget is only forecasting a 2.75 percent growth next year.

Griffin said the forecast takes into consideration uncertainty about the country’s economic turnaround.

“We recognize we see mixed signals in economy,” he said, pointing to the 1-percent drop in the country’s gross domestic product during the first quarter. “We think that showing our baked-in costs and a very conservative look at revenues is the prudent way to approach the out years.”

The council also approved a $25.5 million capital improvement budget, which includes major funding for the overhaul of the city’s creek district, including the Discovery Street widening and flood control improvements, the Via Vera Cruz Bridge and street improvements and the Creek District promenade.