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Escondido focuses budget on employees before adding services

ESCONDIDO — With improving revenue streams, the city is centering its projected 2014-15 balanced budget on improving employee pay, covering increased employee overhead, and hiring new staff.

“The way that we balance the budget is really on the backs of the employees because that is where the money is spent,” explained city Manager Clay Phillips to the Council on Wednesday night.

Escondido is anticipated to receive a 6 percent increase in revenues next year for a total of just over $86 million, according to a city staff analysis.

The boost is primarily made up from a projected increase in revenues from sales taxes, property taxes and charges for services.

The city’s latest proposed general fund operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year is about $87.5 million, which is an increase of $5.5 million from the fiscal year 2013-14 operating budget.

The majority of Escondido’s extra costs are the result of increasing public safety employees’ salaries by about $2.6 million and hiring five new full-time city staffers.

Though building maintenance is planned to receive a budget increase, the majority of the city’s departments will maintain their current budget or in the case of recreation have their budget reduced.

Phillips explained that most of Escondido’s expenses consist of paying employee salaries, benefits and pensions.

“We’re service based,” he said. “We’re paying for people. They have health insurance that goes up, (and) they have pensions that go up.”

When the city’s budget was slashed during the recession, staff suffered pay cuts and lay offs.

During the city’s best financial years before the recession, Escondido had 900 employees. Today, the city employs about 740 people.

Now that the city’s budget is improving, the main priority is to restore employee pay and staffing levels, he said.

Crediting city staff for their work, Mayor Sam Abed expressed his support for the emphasis on employee expenditures.

“Our goal is to make all city employees to a median, average pay,” he said.