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Council advances $80M budget, request for three firefighters

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council have given a preliminary OK for an $80.9 million budget for the next fiscal year, which includes the hiring of three full-time firefighters at the city’s Olivenhain fire station.

City staff presented the first draft of the budget at the May 13 council meeting. The meeting gave the council an opportunity to comment on staff’s proposed expenditures. Staff will then take the feedback and return with a final budget for council approval in June.

About $54.9 million of the proposed operating budget will fund general fund services, which include public safety, parks, beaches and recreation, street maintenance and other core services. The city projects that amount will rise to $56.7 million during the following fiscal year that begins July 1, 2016.

To pay for the general fund services, the city is projecting that revenues from sales taxes, property taxes and other coffers will be $63.7 million during the 2015-16 fiscal year and $64.8 the following year, compared to $59.3 million in revenue this year. Staff attributes the rise to strong growth in city sales tax revenues, which continue their rebound following the economic downturn.

The Olivenhain fire station issue has been a longstanding one in the community, as the city currently staffs the station with three full-time employees and three other fire fighters who are working overtime. While cheaper than hiring additional full-time staff, City Fire Chief Mike Daigle said the current system could lead to firefighter burnout.

The council unanimously approved the inclusion in the budget.

“While this will ultimately result in an ongoing budget of $70,000/year total (the difference between the full-time employees and overtime for existing employees), it provides more resources for emergencies like wildfires and responds to concerns about burn-out from excessive overtime,” Lisa Shaffer said in an email to her supporters.

In addition to the boost in fire personnel, the council OK’d a staff request for additional marine safety personnel and two portable lifeguard towers, which they said will accommodate the increasing popularity of the city beaches, as well as a request to set aside $100,000 for the next city manager to use for any organizational realignments.

The council also voted 4-1 to create a $1 million facility maintenance reserve fund, which they will use to begin addressing a huge deferred maintenance backlog. The first item that will be fixed with the funds will be the carpet and painting at the Community Center, a $130,000 expense.