Council Narrowly Approves $282M Budget

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After about three hours and a lot of back and forth discussions during both the study session and the regular meeting, Newport Beach City Council adopted the $282.43 million 2015-16 budget with a few revisions.

Council voted 4-3 to adopt the budget, with Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, Kevin Muldoon and Scott Peotter dissenting.

It is financially sound and appropriately emphasizes the goals and priorities of the council, said the city’s Finance Director and Treasurer, Dan Matusiewicz.

But a few of the council members disagreed.

“I can’t in good conscious… support this budget that I view as too large and not taking care of the needs of Newport first,” Muldoon said.

Muldoon consulted an expert on the matter: John Warner, a member of the city’s Finance Committee. Warner expressed frustration about not getting the answers he needed regarding the budget, Muldoon said. So Muldoon decided to vote against it.

The adopted budget included a checklist of revisions that the council went through and conducted a straw vote on various items.

During the regular meeting, council members had an opportunity to suggest additions, deletions or modifications to items on the checklist.

The most talked about items include a suggestion to delay the Corona del Mar fire station and library or “fibrary” and add more money to the Balboa Island seawall project, reducing the proposed additional police enforcement on the peninsula, and postponing the budgets for the Central Avenue public pier and replacing the harbor piers and gangways.

Peotter suggested delaying the CdM “fibrary” until the 2016-17 budget cycle. Councilmen Duffield and Muldoon voted in agreement during a straw vote, but the motion failed without the majority.

Delaying the project would allow residents some time to raise private funds to build a larger, possibly two-story library, Peotter said.

After public hearings, programming, and filing the necessary construction documents and permits, construction wouldn’t start before July 2016 anyway, Peotter reasoned. That money could be found in next year’s budget, he said.

While delaying the CdM “fibrary” that money could be used toward the seawall replacement, Peotter explained.

“You’d be swapping the money,” he said.

The seawall should have higher priority, Peotter argued. There are potential problems with great liability risks, he said.

There is a safety issue at hand, Duffield said during the study session.

“The crumbling seawall is a very serious issue,” Muldoon sad.

Also, to lessen the impact on residents, Peotter’s goal would be to move it up to coincide with the work on the Park Avenue bridge.

“The problem is they’re different freight trains going at different speeds,” said Public Works Director, Dave Webb.

The bridge has federal funding involved and a different contractor, he explained. Trying to combine the two could become a very complex project.

Peotter also proposed adding $5 million to the budget for the Balboa Island seawall. Again, only Duffield and Muldoon raised their hands in support during a straw vote and the motion failed.

“The financial irresponsibility of this proposal is breathtaking,” said Councilman Keith Curry.

Staff has said the city has allocated all the money for the seawalls that they can responsibly spend in the next fiscal year, Curry said.

“We have plenty of money to responsibly plan for the seawalls,” Curry said.

The Tidelands Management Committee authorized this level of prudent activity knowing that there are years of design, permitting and other parts of the process ahead in order to get to the point of construction, Councilman Tony Petros noted during the study session.

Suspending the activity on the CdM fire station and library would kill the project, Curry said during the study session.

It’s a long-term investment and needs to be done thoughtfully, he said.

Peotter also proposed reducing the $800,000 budget for adding three new police officers and a sergeant for the Balboa Peninsula area to $200,000. It failed without a single vote of support.

The amount seems excessive and the Peninsula problems may soon decrease now that the bar owners have banded together and are working with the police force, Peotter said. They may decrease enough that the four new positions and $800,000 isn’t warranted, Peotter said during the study session.

“There are a lot of issues down on the peninsula that we need to address,” said Newport Beach Police Department Chief Jay Johnson.

There has been a 26 percent increase in violent crime on the peninsula, Johnson said. The peninsula leads the city in rapes and aggravated assaults, he noted.

“We should do everything we can to remedy that type of crime,” Petros said later.

These crimes are intolerable, Petros noted.

“The crime issue is one issue that I‘m concerned about and that alone would justify more police officers, in my mind,” Johnson said. “But in addition to that, it’s those quality of life issues.”

Issues like traffic issues, drunk in public, urinating on private property, boardwalk safety, beach patrol, and more. It’s not just the issues that occur during closing time at the bars, Johnson added.

The community has been upset about a number of things and asked for more staffing in the area, he explained.

During the recession, eight officers were removed from the peninsula area and

have never been replaced, Johnson explained.

Duffield proposed postponing the budget items for Newport Harbor piers and gangways replacement and the Central Avenue public pier. All of his fellow council members were in agreement and the items were zeroed out. Staff will return with a budget amendment based on the actual cost of what council decides to construct, explained City Manager Dave Kiff.

Harbor piers and gangways are in fairly good condition, Duffield reasoned.

“I personally examined each and every one, and in my opinion, they’re in fine shape,” Duffield said.

There was one that was “marginal, but clearly could survive,” he noted during the study session.

Just last year the railing and decking on the piers was replaced, he added.

The $400,000 for the Central Avenue public pier was more than what he feels is needed for the project, Duffield explained.

“I believe in my heart of hearts that $400,000 is way too much,” Duffield said.

The $400,000 for a dock for dinghies is “clearly way over,” what’s needed, Duffield said during the study session. It should be $50,000 to $100,000 at best, he added.

The original numbers were rough estimates from the Harbor Resources Department, Webb responded during the regular meeting.

“I’m very uncomfortable with this,” said Mayor Ed Selich. “We’re just pulling numbers out of the air here.”

Selich suggested zeroing out the items and have staff return with some kind of a “rational estimate.”

Peotter also suggested continuing the entire budget until the next meeting in June. But no other council member supporting the motion during a straw vote and his continuation idea failed.

In the end, Peotter voted against the entire budget “because of the lack of attention on some of the detail and some of the items, like our public safety cost, that we’re adding to our budget.”

“We were elected on a platform of fiscal reform and this budget is not reform,” Peotter said.

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