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CALIFORNIA CITY — The Fire Department will have to find $260,000 in cuts from its budget for the remaining six months of the fiscal year, after the City Council could not agree to allow it to use reserve funds.

The Council, on Tuesday, voted 3-2 to allow the Department to use funds held in reserve from the special parcel tax approved by voters to fund public safety services. Mayor Jeanie O’Laughlin and Mayor Pro Tem Nick Lessenevitch dissented.

According to city policy, any use of reserve funds requires a four-fifths vote of the Council.

“I can’t kick the can down the road another year,” O’Laughlin said, noting that the amount requested is about half the Department’s reserves.

The Council did not pass the 2021-2022 budget until Nov. 23, just shy of five months into the fiscal year, which started on July 1.

It was approved on a 3-2 vote, with O’Laughlin and Lessenevitch dissenting. This prompted debate over whether it should require a supermajority, or four-fifths, vote for passage because it used reserve funds.

The matter was brought back to the Council for re-review of certain areas. It also included an error discovered in the General Fund, which corrected improves the fund’s net position, according to the staff report.

The revised General Fund shows expenses of $7.65 million against revenues of nearly $7.96 million, including $705,000 in grants from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

This balances the General Fund, with an ending balance of $304,357, according to the staff report.

The Fire Department was one of three areas of the budget with deficits the Council considered, on Tuesday. The others were Tierra Del Sol Golf Course and the California City Municipal Airport.

Earlier in the budget development process, the Fire Department cut approximately $117,000, at the request of the Council, Interim City Manager Anne Ambrose said.

Fire Chief Jeremy Kosick said budgeting for the Department is difficult, because long-range plans were made based on the special parcel tax rate when it passed, in 2018, but that figure has been reduced in the ensuing years.

“For quite some time, I’ve been unclear on what even our budget is going to be,” he said.

The Department’s costs are impacted by aging equipment that needs to be replaced, long-term injuries to personnel that are adding to overtime and workers compensation costs, turnover in personnel, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“There’s so much that’s going on within our operational section that it’s making it extremely difficult to have a decent forecast,” Kosick said. “Some of the costs are just unknown until we get to that point.”

Councilmember Karen Macedonio pointed out that the Police Department has already used its reserve from the special parcel tax. Its budget was balanced, this year, through the use of grants.

The golf course and airport have outstanding deficits beyond the current fiscal year that have been years in the making, and will likewise take time to address, Ambrose said. The golf course’s outstanding deficit is $2.9 million and the airport’s is $2.45 million.

She requested $430,000 in General Fund reserves to address the current year deficits for both of these areas, while working on plans to address the outstanding deficits.

“In preparing the budget, it is very clear that these are areas that can’t continue to go unchecked,” Ambrose said. “Both of these programs are spending outside their means.”

The Council voted down motions to approve using General Fund reserves for the golf course and airport, on 4-1 and 3-2 votes, respectively.

Staff will bring a revised budget with the new spending reductions to the Council for approval at a future date.

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