The Coast News Group
The city faced an $8.5 million deficit in May and had initially proposed $ million in budget cuts. File photo
The city faced an $8.5 million deficit in May but avoided significant budget cuts by using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. File photo

Escondido balances budget, avoids deep cuts with COVID relief funds

ESCONDIDO — The Escondido City Council approved a balanced budget in late June using COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government. The budget included restored funding to the California Center for the Arts and other deferred maintenance needs lined up for budget cuts just last month.

The city faced an $8.5 million deficit in May, prompting the council to direct staff to cut items from the budget that would not impact the city’s health and safety services, which include police, fire and public works and makes up 75% of the operating budget.

Staff returned to the council in early June with a budget reduction totaling $7.1 million. While some items were reclassified to city funds outside the general fund, more than $4 million in cuts were proposed. The remaining budget gap was filled with more revenue for the city than initially proposed in May.

Those proposed cuts included $2.2 million for city vehicle replacements, $550,000 for roof repairs to city buildings and its annual $1.9 million in financial support to the California Center for the Arts, which pays for a management fee for the center’s operation, gas and electric bills, and building maintenance and network administration.

The council asked staff to return at the end of June with a new budget using no more than $5 million from the city’s Section 115 pension trust fund and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The ARPA dispersed $8 billion in federal dollars to cities nationwide for relief from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On June 22, staff returned for the budget’s final approval using $3.7 million in one-time funding from ARPA funds to restore those proposed cuts to the budget with some reductions.

Vehicle replacements will receive $1.2 million from ARPA money, $1 million less than originally proposed; the full $550,000 was restored for needed roof repairs.

“The roofs of many city buildings are at the end of their lives,” Director of Finance Christina Holmes said.

The Center for the Arts is also getting back slightly less funding at $1.5 million. The management fee was reduced by $133,000, with plans for the city and the arts center to renegotiate a new management agreement in the coming months.

Sara Matta, board chair of the arts center, thanked city staff at the June 22 council meeting for working with the board to restore its funding.

“The restored funding in the current staff report allows the California Center for the Arts to continue its mission of bringing people together to discover, create, celebrate the visual and performing arts, which is a critical component of a strong and vibrant community,” Matta said.

Staff also initially reduced the budget by $1 million to account for the total cost of an operating budget despite employee vacancies. With the final approved budget, staff added back $400,000 using ARPA.

Overall, the council was pleased with the staff’s work on the budget over the last two months and the final product.

“This was the most robust discussion we’ve ever had for a budget since I’ve been on council,” said Councilmember Consuelo Martinez. “I really appreciate the process we went through together — the staff did just a phenomenal job.”