By: Anita W. Harris
At the Signal Hill City Council meeting on March 28, City Manager Charlie Honeycutt presented a mid-year budget review covering July 1 to Dec. 31, 2016. The City’s fiscal year is July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 and thus the review provides the status of the City’s operating budget at its halfway point.
Honeycutt reported a slight drop in projected revenue. “In general, we’re seeing sales taxes […] projected to be lower than budgeted due to a variety of factors that include slowing of sales of products and equipment used in the production of petroleum; the low gas prices that are continuing are having an effect on sales tax from our service stations; […] an ownership change of the Nissan dealership which […] affected sales tax revenues from that dealership; as well as a slowing of office supplies and furniture sales that appear to be affected by the failed merger of Office Depot and Staples,” Honeycutt stated.
Honeycutt noted that while revenue projections are down, City expenditures are below budget as well. “On the expenditure side, City departments are about 6 percent under budget. This is a little better than we typically see. We expect that this will help us offset the lower revenue projection.”
Acting Finance Director Scott Williams presented more details, including that the City general fund began with a balanced budget last June, at $100,000 under budget at the end of the first year of the current two-year budget cycle, with revenues of $21.2 million and expenditures of $21.1 million.
Williams further presented a table of general fund revenues and noted that while total revenues year-to-date are at about 36.5 percent of budget at the halfway point instead of 50 percent, this is because of timing. “There are two large revenue sources– sales and property tax,” he said. “Property tax is disbursed mainly in December and April […] and sales taxes is three months in arrears.”
Williams thus concluded that City revenues are on track. “When you look at this point in time year after year, this is exactly as expected.”
He also noted that the City’s conservative estimate for revenues remains positive.
“Property taxes, which represent about 9 percent of general fund revenues […] remain stable with the expectation of a slight increase over the next year,” Williams said, citing the real estate market. “We continue to have low interest rates as well as a very low housing stock, especially at the entry-level.” He further added that sales tax revenue in general, representing about 70 percent of the general fund, continues to move forward, though at a modest pace.
Though the total net revenue budget adjustment is about $450,000, Williams noted that lower City expenditure will likely offset that shortfall. “Given budgetary savings department wide, we will probably wind up about even,” he said. “There’s a lot of discipline that goes on in that respect.”
Elaborating on those expenditures, Williams presented a table showing that halfway through the fiscal year, total City department expenditures are at 44.3 percent of budget, about 6 percent lower than planned. Williams said that all City departments are under budget except for economic development, but this was balanced by rent revenue.
The council moved to receive and file the report.
The council then agreed to schedule May 31 as the next budget workshop to review and make adjustments to the fiscal year 2017-2018 operating and capital improvement budget.
Councilmember Lori Woods encouraged the public to attend the May 31 workshop. “I mentioned before [at the mayor’s reception March 21] that it is my favorite meeting of the year. It’s kind of ‘the State of the City,’ as you hear from each department head saying how they spent your tax dollars and your money the past year and all the different projects,” she said. “They make it short and concise but they share everything and then [state] what each department plans to do [and] accomplish [in the next fiscal year].”
In related new business, Mayor Edward Wilson said that the passing of Measure M on the Los Angeles County ballot in Nov. 2016 allocated $2 million for transportation improvements to the Gateway Cities COG and, as part of that group, the City should help determine how those funds should be allocated by Metro.
Community Development Director Scott Charney presented the council with highlights of an annual progress report on implementing the general plan that the City is required to submit to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
“It’s really an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of the past year,” he said, referring to 2016.
Charney began by saying that Signal Hill’s population had increased slightly between 2015 and 2016, to 11,673. He then presented highlights on several “elements” of the report.
In terms of the land-use element, Charney reported developments in each of Signal Hill’s seven neighborhoods, such as residential and industrial renovation and construction, beautification and sustainability awards, car dealership developments, two mayor’s cleanup events, and new energy fuel cells at both Home Depots.
In the Civic Center neighborhood in particular, Charney noted that in 2016, the library was relocated and the old building demolished to make way for construction of a new library. Construction was also underway for the Gundry Hill development of 72 rental-housing units at 1500 E. Hill St.
In the Atlantic/Spring neighborhood, the Kaiser facility was finished and the Auto Center freeway sign renovation was completed in 2016. Charney also noted that negotiations with Signal Hill Petroleum were finalized for a potential mixed-use development project adjacent to the former Fresh & Easy market.
Regarding the housing element, Charney reported that of Signal Hill’s needs-assessment for 169 units for the period 2013 to 2021, 74 of 98 required market-rate units and all 71 affordable housing units have been completed as of 2016.
“What this means is for the entire reporting period, we’re actually doing quite well,“ he said. “We’re well on track and have several more years to go. We’re likely going to not only meet our obligation of having zoning in place but actually produce the housing.”
On the circulation element, Charney reported on the California Avenue widening project between Willow and Spring streets in 2016, in collaboration with the City of Long Beach, following a $1-million grant approved by Caltrans from Federal Highway Administration.
In terms of environmental resources, Charney highlighted Signal Hill residents’ water conservancy efforts. “I’m happy to report that the community continues to respond to the need to conserve water. In 2016, the average reduction was 21 percent [compared] to 2013.”
Wilson noted the correlation between water conservation and the fiscal impact to budget revenues. “When we conserve water, we get less revenue as well.”
Charney also noted that the City water department was awarded a Caltrans Environmental Grant of $11 million in 2016 for construction of a storm-water retention facility at Long Beach airport, which had already begun.
Charney further highlighted that the City began the process of updating the parks and recreation master plan in 2016 and pursued a $2-million grant from the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy to expand its scope and incorporate recycled water at View Park. He noted that designing a dog park plan continued.
In terms of the safety element of the report, Charney said that it was the most up-to-date. 2016 highlights include– six neighborhood watch programs, 21 residents completing community emergency response team (CERT) training, 16 residents completing the Citizens Police Academy, and promotion of the Red Cross’s “21 Weeks to Prepare” program, supported by former mayor Woods.
All councilmembers were in favor of submitting the report.
Honeycutt asked the council to reconsider their appointments to various local, regional, and state committees in light of their recent reorganization and the retirement of Michael Noll from the council, plus recent committee vacancies.
Committees requiring representation include an Oversight Committee for City Council as Successor Agency, the League of California Cities, the Gateway Cities Council of Governments (COG) and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).
All councilmembers stepped up to offer their services as delegates or alternates to these agencies.
However, there was some concern expressed by the attending public after this discussion. Neena Strichart, resident and newspaper publisher, asked for definition of the agency acronyms used by the council, since they are not familiar to the public. Councilmembers then defined them.
A different attendee voiced her opinion shortly after the meeting was adjourned that the council might open up these positions to others outside of themselves to increase perspectives. Earlier, though, Honeycutt had said that while a resident had been willing to participate in Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control, she had recently withdrawn her offer and it was now up to a councilmember to represent Signal Hill.
Wilson noted that through its participation in these groups, the City has far-reaching influence. “Though Signal Hill is a small city, it has a large regional impact because all the council members serve on [some committee] within the state, region or the county,” he said. “We have ability to impact the whole state.”
The council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution confirming the new appointments of official City representatives.
Honeycutt reported to the council that according to state law, the City has until May 20 to fill the city clerk position made vacant by Robert Copeland’s election onto the city council. The council could choose a new city clerk through special election or through a 30-day recruitment.
The council unanimously favored appointing a recruited candidate given the late timing of a special election and its estimated $35,000 cost. They also approved appointing Deputy City Clerk Kimberly Boles as interim City Clerk.
“We’ll handle it just like we would recruit for any other open position in the City,” Honeycutt said. “We’ll advertise it; we’ll notice it in the Signal Tribune as well.”
The next meeting of the Signal Hill City Council will take place Tuesday, April 11 at 7pm in council chamber, 2175 Cherry Ave.