By Matt Morrison
Presented with operating costs of just over $157 million for the coming fiscal year, the Irvine City Council voted unanimously in favor of its second straight balanced budget proposal.
The 2014-15 proposal presented earlier this week reflects an increase of a little more than $13 million, or 1.09%, over the current fiscal year.
The budget emphasizes public safety, community services and education. The projected $13-million increase in annual revenue is allotted in part to hiring 10 full-time city employees, including three uniformed officers and three civilian staff members at the Police Department.
“We are altogether proud we have a balanced budget,” said Mayor Steven Choi. “Every day, every year, we are looking up. Revenue is increasing, so we can spend more.”
Sales tax remains the greatest source of revenue at a projected $56.8 million, followed closely by property taxes, expected to net the city $48.8 million. The budget projects annual income from other sources to increase $8 million, to $41.3 million.
Irvine will spend $9.2 million on public education, up $700,000 from last year. Councilman Larry Agran suggested an additional $300,000 be earmarked for a school safety study to include firearms security.
City Manager Sean Joyce prefaced his budget proposal by noting the civic recognition earned in the past year. Irvine is No. 1 on the 2014 list of America’s best-run cities compiled by 24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion operation. Based on violent crime statistics, the FBI ranked Irvine the safest large city in the country for the ninth consecutive year, and it was voted the fifth “happiest city” in California.
“We’re luckier than some communities,” Joyce said, “but I think it’s been a well-managed community for four decades.”
If having the budget unanimously approved seemed like a home run, it wasn’t exactly a walk-off. Uncertainty over the proposed $23-million reserve fund sparked the only debate over the listed line items.
The city aims for a contingency fund that is 20% of the annual working budget. The current proposal accounts for only $15 million. Council members and representatives from the city finance commission expressed concern over a clear business plan to cover the $8-million shortfall.
“To appropriate money in the budget would mean a reduction in core services,” Joyce explained after the discussion.