City officials share budget priorities

Santa Clarita continues to stand on steady grounds economically, but rainy day preparation is essential, city officials said during a study session Tuesday as it prepares for its new spending plan.

“This is really what’s guided our budget for years and the past couple decades: The decisions made in good times are more important than decisions made during bad times,” City Manager Ken Striplin said.

Gathered in the Century Room at City Hall for the public meeting, Striplin presented a brief overview of the city’s fiscal year 2019-20 budget strategy and goals to City Council members, and members of Santa Clarita’s various committees.

The meeting was the second one this week to mark the start of a six-month process to shape the new budget plan. Here’s a breakdown of topic areas highlighted during the study session:

Budget priorities

As categorized in the Santa Clarita 2020 plan, the city’s priorities will be to complete efforts toward public safety; building and creating community; enhancing economic vitality; community beautification; sustaining public infrastructure; and proactive, transparent and responsive government services.  

The 2020 plan was created to guide the city’s major projects, many of which are underway, such as the new Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, as well as completed ones, including the homeless task force and the Old Town Newhall parking structure.

“In terms of priorities for 2019-20, I’d like to speak about our commitments, most importantly, to continue the implementation of action items in Santa Clarita 2020,” Striplin said. “We have made tremendous progress toward the completion of all the action items identified in that plan, and I’m confident — come the end of 2020 — we will finish the rest of them.”

General fund revenues and expenditures

The general fund is the city’s largest revenue source, where staff spends a significant amount of time looking at economic data and the forecast, Striplin said.

  • For the new fiscal year, city staff anticipates total revenue of $113.1 million, a 2.1-percent increase over the adopted budget of the 2018-19 term. Sales tax, Santa Clarita’s largest general revenue source, is projected at $37 million. Property tax is projected at $19.5 million, an 8.2-percent increase when compared to the current year.

An estimated $112.8 million is expected for general fund expenditures. Public safety will, as it has in the past, consume the largest budget (25 percent), which is projected at $27.8 million. Since the 2015-16 term, Striplin said the city has seen a 30-percent increase in the cost of public safety.

Figures presented are only base budget numbers and not final numbers that will be presented in May when the budget comes closer to finalization, said Striplin.

Budget risks and liabilities

The city manager also listed “things we really need to pay attention to,” namely the costs of the city’s new capital projects, the maintenance of existing facilities, public safety costs, pension funding, homelessness, state legislation and affordable housing.

For example, under affordable housing, one of the most pressing issues California cities are facing, Striplin highlighted that median home prices rose to an all-time high of $537,000, while the national average was $310,000. “That will continue to be a challenge that we attempt to deal with,” Striplin said, referring to the statewide housing crisis.

City Council members are expected to review the final budget at the city’s June 25 meeting, ahead of the start of the fiscal year, July 1. There are several other planning sessions scheduled before that meeting.

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