The Coast News Group
Escondido city council approved the next fiscal year's budget. Tensions arose when (far left) Mayor Sam Abed attempted to limit Councilmember Olga Diaz's time. Photo by Ellen Wright

Escondido approves $91.2 million budget

ESCONDIDO—City Council approved the operating budget for the next two fiscal years at a meeting June 10.

City staff presented a balanced budget and projected a 5 percent increase in the city’s revenue.

“It is a balanced budget without using reserves,” Mayor Sam Abed said.

The council approved an operating budget of $91.2 million for 2015-2016. That’s 3 percent more, or $2.7 million more, than the city used during fiscal year 2014-2015.

The city has nearly 640 full-time employees that are paid out of the general fund.

More than half of the city’s employees are police officers, fire fighters and emergency responders.

According to Assistant Finance Director Joan Ryan, multiple factors contributed to the increase.
San Diego Gas and Electric raised the rates 25 to 30 percent over the past two years which increased the budget $400,000.

City staff also planned $800,000 for general city employee’s raises.

Abed said the raises are a long time coming. A few years ago, he said employees would get raises once there was a balanced budget.

“We have $800,000 in additional salaries to bring all city employees close to the median,” Abed said.

The budget has been balanced without using reserves for the past five fiscal years.

The Public Employment Retirement Fees System fees went up $900,000 for the next fiscal year.

Liability and insurance costs increased, resulting in a $600,000 increase.

While the spending is up 3 percent, projected revenue is also up $4.1 million.

The city’s largest funding source is property taxes, which bring in $30.3 million.

What was otherwise a run-of-the-mill council meeting, turned sour when Mayor Abed tried to limit Councilmember Olga Diaz’s time speaking.

“I’m going to give you five more minutes, that will be a half an hour,” said Abed.

“It’s unheard of to limit a councilmembers comments on the most important document. The most important thing we do all year long is approve this budget,” replied Diaz.

A resident interjected and walked out of the meeting in protest of the time limit.

Diaz continued with her questioning for about 15 more minutes.

Once she finished Abed told her she was asking valid questions but said it would be better to get the information outside of a council meeting.

As part of the budget, city staff is looking to cut some recreational funding because the revenue projections for the fiscal year are down $434,000 according to staff.

Director of Library and Community Services Loretta McKinney said the recreation division always goes through restructuring and evaluation.

“We are planning to reevaluate and reconstruct some of the classes,” said McKinney. “We have not determined at this point what those are.”

McKinney said the department hopes to increase revenue from other means, like renting out the pool.

However, renting it out will cause the water polo club and the swim team to lose three seasons of pool use.

The budget for fiscal year 2016-2017 was also approved and City Manager Clay Phillips said staff can return to council with changes to the budget or when unexpected circumstances arise.

Councilmember Diaz said while the budget is balanced, it’s tight.

“It’s balanced but we’re spending every single dime,” Diaz said. “There’s no wiggle room really.”