Norwalk passes balanced budget

NORWALK - In a chorus of ayes, the Norwalk City Council unanimously approved the fiscal year 2012-13 budget, which includes sharp service fee increases and tight spending reductions in order to maintain city services while bolstering the city's reserve fund during a sluggish economic recovery.City officials praised the balanced budget, which estimates the city will collect $38,684,729 in revenues, a 1.5% increase from this fiscal year, mostly from fee increases and sales and property taxes. City expenditures, which also increased by 1.6% due to employee wages and benefits, the city's contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and other service contracts and expenses, are expected to reach $38,605,247. During budget discussions last month, the city council made reductions in the amount of $136,407, which eliminated the beginning deficit of nearly $57,000 and left a surplus of $79,482. "We have a balanced budget that maintains the high level of services and programming with less resources, maximizing technology to maintain services," said Jana Stuard, the city director of finance. The city general fund balance is projected to be $9,342,556 by the end of the fiscal year. Projected revenues for the city's water system are estimated to decrease by $257,753, or 3% from the prior fiscal year budget, according to Staurd. The decrease is mainly due to a decrease in federal funding and consumption charges, $158,553 and $155,200 respectively. Even though consumption charges will increase effective July 15, staff anticipates increased water conservation efforts which will result in overall lower revenues. The Norwalk Golf Course currently projects annual revenues in the amount of $180,000, and estimated expenses of $354,770, resulting in a projected annual deficit of $174,770, which will be subsidized from the general fund and could be lower due to fee increases. The Norwalk Transit system suffers from the effects of the downturn in the economy and reduction in state funding. The operational expenses total $11,615,345 and are $124,082 higher than estimated revenues. However, with seven vacant positions frozen, staff anticipates saving $669,000, which creates a surplus of $544,918. With city staff recommendations in mind, the city council weighed its options during budget sessions, removing several items of less priority while adding others. While the original budget called for a $5,000 city marketing project using "Norwalk Is Our City," a city anthem song written by community leader Arturo Sanchez, the city council removed the item. The council instead advocated for three Wi-Fi access points at city hall and the Norwalk Arts and Sports Complex for a cost of $10,000. A $5,000 traffic study of Rosecrans and Crossdale was also added to the budget along with the funding of a youth intervention program for $2,500. The council also relocated one specific capital project, new caulking, windows and skylights at the Norwalk Arts and Sports Complex, from the general fund to the building replacement fund, saving $98,065. On June 5, the council, noting the absence of Councilman Marcel Rodarte, voted unanimously to raise fees for services and programs, adding an additional $100,000 to next year's budget. According to Stuard, the fee increases, which affect nearly every department, raising prices on everything from building permits and senior center rates to recreation costs and public safety fines, are a direct response to gradual increases in labor costs since 2009. Mayor Cheri Kelley praised the city staff for working diligently to produce a balanced budget that maintains city services, noting the process was difficult at best under the current economic situation.

********** Published: June 21, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 10