Facing a budget deficit that could top $1 million, Imperial Beach might be faced with cutting sheriff’s services, eliminating senior center staff and canceling the city Fourth of July celebration, officials say.
Other budget-cutting ideas offered at a recent City Hall workshop include charging residents to fix their own sidewalks, furloughing city employees once a week and finding a better way to collect traffic fines.
On March 14, the City Council hosted a workshop meeting to discuss ways to raise revenue and reduce services to overcome a budget deficit that Finance Department director Mike McGrane said could range from $500,000 to more than $1 million this year.
Property tax income from the now-defunct city Redevelopment Agency once helped fund some city staff positions, absorbed sheriff contract increases and played a key role in the city’s general fund, McGrane said.
Incentive programs could be launched to encourage more city employees to voluntarily leave, the council was told.
Financial statements, reports, analysis and bonds issued as part of redevelopment will no longer be necessary since the state dissolved the agencies in January.
“If redevelopment goes away, you could argue that my position wouldn’t even be necessary. You would need an accountant or an accounting manager, and other cities do that,” he said.
“I’ve gone over the budget for the last 10 years and you’re absolutely right,” McGrane said in response to a question from Mayor Jim Janney. “Redevelopment has sort of been key in the past 10 years to keep us in balance.”
When talk of eliminating staff at the Sports Park and Recreation Center and Senior Center came up, Janney said staff from the two might be consolidates, but people need to look at the essential role of the city government.
People have become accustomed to some services, but they may not be the “inherent responsibilities of local government,” he said.
“They’re things that bring a better quality of life, but what we have to put out there is do we want to charge a fee for this or a tax for this, or this is what goes away.”
He noted the city’s “inherent responsibility” for safety of Imperial Beach residents via police and fire protection and “fix the streets.”
“There’s not much else out there,” he said. “All these other things are just nice to have.”
Tax Increases on the Table
City Council and staff discussed raising various tax rates, but little time was spent on the subject.
One idea positively received was allowing people to offer their homes as vacation rentals—thus generating transient occupancy tax revenue, or TOT. A study done by a contractor on the city’s behalf found that allowing such rentals could generate $40,000-$50,000 in annual TOT fees.
Port of San Diego contract
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we might be able to maintain our same levels of funding from the port. If not, it could be a $200,000-$300,000 hit,” said Public Safety Department director Tom Clark. Negotiations are ongoing.
Sheriff’s Department contract
To keep the contract at or below $5.7 million and accommodate a $1 million or more rise in costs, the city may eliminate 11 positions over the next three years, Clark said.
IB's station would become a substation and no longer have a captain. .
Said City Manager Gary Brown: “What it amounts to is—over the years, if we’re lucky—we’ll pay the same, but we will be getting much less service.”
Imperial Beach city staff offered these ideas:
Require property owners to fix their own sidewalks
“You could say you have the option: Repair it to city standard or, if you want, we’ll put it on our list, charge you if you don’t pay the bill, or we put a lien on your property,” Brown said.
The city now pays about $50,000-65,000 a year for such repairs, Brown said.
Use the lifeguard station as a billboard
“We can see if there’s a market for sun tan lotion, or pick a product, Pepsi Co.,” Brown said.
Said Councilwoman Lorie Bragg: “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a product. It could be an organization like .”
Sell the Imperial Beach Adult Education School
“We don’t even know if there’s a market for this,” Brown said. “And the downside to that is it’s not like it’s a continuous revenue.”
The city owns the land but not the building, he said.
Charge for processing lien releases
“It’s not a huge money thing, but once again it’s trying to at least recover our costs,” Brown said.
Community Development Department Director Greg Wade said the city could charge more for the services his department provides to help recover costs.
Charge for use of portable electronic sign
The signs are often put on Imperial Beach Boulevard and Palm Avenue before a major event.
“Rather than just put it out there, we can establish a reasonable fee,” Brown said.
Find new collector of parking ticket fines
A company could be hired to collect unpaid traffic ticket fees.
The council also spent time at the three hour workshop discussing the idea of adding parking meters or hiring a meter maid to enforce parking time limits.
Debt collection to recover payment for unpaid tickets also was discussed.
“There’s a lot of nonpayers out there right now, and the company we’re currently dealing with is not as efficient as other companies. So we can look out and see who’s got a better collection rate,” said Clark, the Public Safety Department director.
City staff could pick up this duty, but Clark and the city attorney cautioned that an employee has to follow certain laws and rules when it comes to debt collection practices, and that’s why most cities contract these duties to firms.
“You can’t just take somebody who’s working on a desk and turn them into a code enforcement officer to write citations for parking, code enforcement on smoking, animals off leash, all the other stuff we need to deal with,” Clark said.
David Garcias, who represents the city employees union, said: “There’s specific training we have to deal with for those people. Otherwise we’re putting them in harm’s way.”
He said city staff unanimously agree that the city leaves “money on the table” when it comes to parking meters.
“All of the employees universally said: Why don’t we put parking meters on the street like every other city?”
Make money off electric billboards
Councilman Brian Bilbray said he was contacted by a resident who recommends the city install an electric billboard at a high traffic area to generate advertising revenue.
Raise Building Height Limits
Mayor Janney suggested raising building height limits. Not necessarily on the beach, but possibly on 13th Street.
"If the residents of our community are faced with reductions in services versus allowing another floor, maybe they'll see it another way," Councilman Spriggs said.
Eliminate Fourth of July fireworks
“I am suggesting that we not have the July 4th celebration,” City Manager Brown said, noting that the event cost the city $25,000 last year.
In 2011, for the second year, Fourth were launched from the pier. According to lifeguard estimates, the event attracted 30,000 people to the beach, making it the second-largest event in IB last year behind the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition.
Councilman Ed Spriggs said the city can’t look at Fourth of July fireworks as another expense, but good publicity to attract people to IB.
“We need to think about the Fourth of July, and we need to think about public relations not as solely expense items but in terms of investments in Imperial Beach’s name being out there and people coming to this community,” he said.
Have city staff work only four days a week
This could save the city $175,000 a year. The city currently furloughs employees the second and fourth Fridays of the month.
Contract particular public works services to see if they can be given to contractors at a lower rate
No estimates were given for how much this could save the city.
Cancel public relations contract with Che
City Manager Gary Brown said this contract is so small “we don’t get much for it and it’s not the fault of the company—it’s just that for $15K you don’t get much, and I’d be willing to guarantee you that [Michelle Posada, Brown’s assistant who runs the city website] can do it.”
Councilman Spriggs again emphasized that the city needs to invest in marketing.
“Given where we are in our need to be entrepreneurial, and bring more investment to the community, what image do we need to project of IB?” he said. “Who do we need to project to? We need to give these things a little more thought. Maybe we cut it out and substitute something else that may work better for us.”
Contract out park maintenance or stop doing it entirely
The current cost of maintaining baseball fields is $36,000, the council was told.
“This would be saying to the users of the ball field that we, the city, will no longer maintain the ball fields, and if you want to maintain the ball fields, get out there and maintain them,” Brown said.
The Imperial Beach Little League can continue to mow and maintain the field, said league president Don Spicer.
Charging for use of lights could generate an additional $15,000, McGrane said.
Cut Donovan State Prison inmates landscaping
This service costs the city $55,000.
Eliminate Senior Center and Recreation Center staff
The two centers could scale down or consolidate departments instead of outright elimination of staff, Janney said. The Senior Center costs the city $30,000 and the Sports Park and Recreation Center costs $200,000 a year.
Councilwoman Bragg suggested bingo be held at the Senior Center to raise money.
Staff has made cuts and the Recreation Center may close on Saturdays, said director Jim Coates.
When school is out, kids really have only two places to go in IB, he said—the Boys & Girls Club of South County-Imperial Beach and the Sports Park and Recreation Center.
“We’ve become a teen center,” Coates said. “The teens come directly across the street from Mar Vista to our facilities.”
“The one thing I’d really like the city to take one hard look at is look at the crime rate of teens, what it was before the city took over the Sports Park versus what it is today, and where they have to go,” he said.
“And I wish I could just get a little more involvement from some of the council people, even the city staff, to let them really see what we’ve got going on down there.”