City bucks budget cut trend

The June 4 all-day city of Chico budget study session consisted of reasonably peaceful discussions, as City Council members seemed relieved that they’re not in slash-and-burn mode like many other governmental entities across the state.

“We have a balanced budget, but we’re going to have to work hard to provide services and maintain that balanced budget,” reported Tom Lando, the city manager. He said that balancing the $51 million budget for 2002-03 required the city to come up a little short in its reserve funds, but he expects that can be made up as the year wears on. Also, Lando suggested deferring non-emergency expenditures because the state is in such a tenuous fiscal condition.

City revenues have been growing, and recently the city invested $1.3 million in salaries to add 17 new Police Department employees. The council also voted last year to pay the county to increase hours at the Chico library.

Councilmember Coleen Jarvis suggested that greatly increased library hours is a luxury the city can no longer afford, since that money could be used by other agencies that serve the community. Jarvis said that she has nothing against the library, but if it is now going to be treated like a nonprofit agency, it should be considered in the same list as organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Community Legal Information Center and so on.

On Tuesday afternoon, the council approved allocations to nonprofits ranging from the Hmong Cultural Center to the Chico Area Recreation District. The council held out on giving money to the Chico Economic Planning Corporation, so the city can see what a consultant’s study has to say about how the city spends money on economic development.

A $40,000 public-relations campaign aimed at discouraging people from coming to Chico to party on Halloween was approved, with Dan Nguyen-Tan voicing his objection.

The council agreed to plan for $29.5 million in capital improvement projects, including street reconstructions on sections of East Avenue, storm drainage work in the Vecino neighborhood, new lighting at Bidwell Park’s One Mile Recreation Area, traffic bulb upgrades, the building of a downtown transit center and replacing six commuter vehicles. Several intersections will also be improved, and the city will put $2.2 million toward a joint effort with the county to reconstruct West Eighth Avenue.

The budget proposal included $210,000 in “additives"—things that came up after the document was drafted. For example, Lando said, the animal shelter needs the city to double its contribution to almost $200,000 or face closure, and no animal shelter is “not an option.”

Also, the city will set aside $25,000 to search for a new police chief. Lando mentioned the task might be tougher, since Chico Chief Mike Efford is retiring at the same time as Redding’s chief, and “they pay more.”

A final vote on the budget is expected at the City Council’s July 2 meeting.