A budget discussion this week centered on the city’s biggest financial issue, unfunded pension liability, but also mentioned a number of proposed new staffing positions, including some key roles in public safety.
In a joint meeting with the Finance Committee on Tuesday, the Newport Beach City Council heard a study session presentation from staff on the 2018-19 fiscal year proposed city budget.
Later in the evening, Council approved an item that set the date for the public hearing and vote for June 12. The 2018-19 fiscal year begins on July 1.
Finance Director Dan Matusiewicz started out the discussion by stating that the city’s budget is balanced.
“Just to put everybody’s mind at ease,” he said.
The city closed the 2016-17 fiscal year with a surplus of $12.4 million, Matusiewicz noted. Proposed expenditures for the 2018-19 budget (including Capital Improvement Projects and the operating budget) total about $364 million.
There were several comments about the city’s unfunded pension liability. Currently, it stands at $321 million, Matusiewicz explained.
“That is definitely the gorilla in the room,” he said.
The city is continuing its “aggressive” approach to paying it down, he noted. This year they are proposing an unfunded liability payment of $34.5 million.
Much of the meeting’s discussion also revolved around the number of new staff positions proposed.
Overall, in the proposed budget and including the checklist items, the proposed net changes are adding seven full-time and 6.32 “full-time equivalent” part-time positions, explained City Manager Dave Kiff.
“I know that’s a lot,” Kiff said, “and I really respect everyone’s concerns.”
This number includes the new proposed Harbor Department that’s on the checklist, he pointed out.
He noted that staff tried to put in part-time positions instead of full-time. Also, contractors sometimes end up costing more, Kiff pointed out.
Some of the suggested additional positions in the budget include part-time building inspectors, fiscal specialist, senior fiscal clerk, plan check engineer, code enforcement officer, and more.
These are workload-driven positions and many are offset by fees, Kiff pointed out.
Councilman Kevin Muldoon expressed concern for the number of new positions proposed. Some are necessary, but some are not, he pointed out.
“It’s been a tradition of Newport Beach to try and keep our staff low,” which he is very proud of, Muldoon said, “so we’re the most efficient possible.”
The only member of the Finance Committee who spoke during the meeting was Larry Tucker, who mentioned the staffing changes.
“The sizing of the organization is a difficult thing to try and figure out exactly how many people we should have in every department,” Tucker said.
He has often scratched his head over the issue, he added.
It might be worth considering, at some point, consulting an expert to review how many people it really takes to run the city properly, he suggested.
During public comment, Corona del Mar resident and 2018 Council candidate Joy Brenner appreciated the Council members concern for not expanding city staff any more than absolutely necessary, but it’s a complex matter.
She often hears from community members about the need for more enforcement or code compliance to resolve a number of issues, like early morning city code violations or building regulation compliance. All of this needs to be monitored by city staff, she pointed out.
“It’s a much more complicated issue than just really keeping our bare-bones minimum staff,” Brenner said.
A few noteworthy new positions proposed in the budget are in the police and fire departments. Public safety takes up about 54 percent of the proposed general fund expenditures.
For the upcoming fiscal year, staff proposed adding one new police officer for school assistance at an annual cost of $140,000. This position would be a trained sworn peace officer, Kiff clarified. The cost is likely to be split with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, he noted.
“I don’t have a pledge yet, but that’s the plan,” Kiff said.
It would improve coverage at both high schools and would allow some time for involvement in other NMUSD schools. Details still need to be worked out, he added.
During public comment, resident Ruth Kobayashi said people were again “jolted” by the recent school shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas. She encouraged the Council to take measures, including increasing coverage by officers on campus, to protect students.
“I definitely support increased police presence here on our campus with appropriate officers that are trained,” Muldoon said.
Also in the police department, Kiff explained the proposal for three new Community Services Officer positions at an annual cost of $225,000. They would be assigned to the records department, where public record act requests are up 385 percent since 2011.
“I worry that we’re falling behind on some important prosecutions,” Kiff noted.
The new CSOs can also assist when females are in custody in order to continue normal jail operations (instead of pulling a female officer in to be present), and it would help avoid overtime expenses. It also allows police to avoid “cite and release” for certain misdemeanors, like drunk in public by maintaining the “drunk tank,” he added.
“This is an important program,” Kiff said. “I would not propose it if I didn’t think it was necessary.”
This is an alternative to new custody officer positions, which are more expensive, he explained.
Although there was some concern from Council members.
Muldoon said he was not in support of the three CSO positions created in order to deal with a “paperwork issue.” Public record requests are fairly simple, he noted. He suggested, unless they are of a sensitive nature, possibly handling them through the NBPD explorer program.
Kiff also presented an idea for adding part-time cold case investigators at an annual cost of $51,000. He mentioned the recent arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, or the “Golden State Killer,” for crimes committed in the 1970s and 1980s.
“I think our whole department is intrigued by the possibility of investing a little bit more resources in cold cases like that,” Kiff said.
In another proposed new public safety position, Kiff presented an idea of adding a civilian fire marshal position at an annual cost of $133,000.
Although there is currently no formal fire marshal in the department, the NBFD chief fills that role, there was previously. The new suggested arrangement will be a bit different regarding plan check services, more efficient scheduling, and customer service focused. The proposed civilian fire marshal would report to both the fire chief and the community development department director.
They discovered, during the recent years without an official fire marshal and with an uptick in complicated building projects, that there are possible, also complicated, accompanying “trade-offs” in the fire code, NBFD Chief Chip Duncan explained.
“I truly believe there is an opportunity to work with our developers to find a more efficient, cost-effective way to build a building and still keep it safe and still meet the code requirements,” Duncan said. “That’s a really unique skill set.”
That’s where a fire marshal would come in, he said, as well as follow through on the project progresses and is completed.
A fire marshal could also review the municipal code for any possible needed updates, he added.
“So it’s kind of a multi-issue approach to why a fire marshal is a good idea,” Duncan said. “It’s completing one piece of the puzzle and making it so we’re more efficient and provide excellent customer service.”
Muldoon opposed adding in the new position and would rather allocate a budget item to have a consultant attend the inspections and offload some of the work.
Other expenditure-related topics discussed on Tuesday included utility undergrounding, the city’s homelessness approach, and the Capital Improvement Program
For more information, visit newportbeachca.gov/budget.