The City of Imperial Beach faces a $350,000 budget gap with the start of the new fiscal year July 1, and possibly a $1.5 million gap in the next two years.
City Council took immediate action on one of its short-term goals to incentivize staff to quit last Wednesday, and talked about the city's long-term vision.
Mayor Jim Janney said Imperial Beach is already a "lean and mean" government and with possible state and federal tax increases, raising local taxes is not an option.
"If some of these employee incentives work, we are going to be at bare bones," he said. "The disparity between our property tax revenue versus our sales tax, property tax revenues is much larger than sales tax. It is property value that drives those numbers."
Janney said the city has to inspire property owners to do more with their land.
He said underutilized places to look are the 13th Street quarter, Palm Avenue, the north bay front and the west side of 7th Street that could hold more density if rezoned.
He said there is no motivation for current and prospective owners to move forward with rehab of old property or construction of new property.
"I think we should look at some of the zoning changes that would fit in the corridors that would not affect single-family residential areas," he said. "We need a real bang for our buck here in these times."
Councilman Ed Spriggs supported Janney and said with the public safety budget being the "guerilla in the room" that the city had difficult decisions to make. He said council really needs to grow a larger local economy and tax base.
He said at a recent economical development presentation the core point was identifying the city's major assets and investing around them.
"Ours is in tourism, specifically manifested around the new hotel," said Spriggs. "Every community needs to decide on where its growth engine is and who its anchor tenants are."
He said along with the Port of San Diego the city has put out millions of dollars into the waterfront area and that is where investment is necessary. Spriggs said not to take a "scatter gun approach," but to be strategic and focus efforts likely to have the best return.
"We know through our ecotourism study that tourism and ecotourism are keys to our growth," Spriggs said. "The tourism environment also improves our quality of life because we can use some of those same amenities in this community. It is a clean industry and something we should all be thinking about more seriously."
Spriggs said he was not looking to rezone Seacoast Drive, but to focus on what is available to work with around the hotel.
"This is not an area that we have had a consensus as a council," he said.
Spriggs said businesses he spoke with would like to see the city streamline permit applications to get their businesses operating.
"That is what is going to drive filling in those lots, but we have to do as much as we can to attract more people coming in," he said. "I think we need to listen to what the businesses are saying."
Councilman Jim King said this is hard now because redevelopment was the city's "basket of tools."
"It is also the question of putting all of your eggs in one basket, and I don't think we should do that either," he said. "We are not on the decline, financially we are, but as far as Imperial Beach being a place to go, people love this place."
Long-term goals was a discussion item only, no actions were taken.
Councilmember Brian Bilbray was absent.
To see all recommendations by city staff, see agenda item 6.3 on the attached agenda.
Earlier in the meeting, council unanimously approved a Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (VSIP) to create vacancies, providing flexibility to restructure city staff. VSIP offers a cash payment based on years of service and offered to all fulltime positions with the exception of city managers, finance director and fire safety positions.
Approved employees with 10 years of less receive $7,500, 11-19 years—$12,000 and 20 years plus—$20,000.
The city will pay $501 per month for a year to cover those under the city's health plan, and $240 per month for those not.
Additionally law required the payment of vacation and sick leave where applicable.
Capped at $250,000 these onetime expenditures will be paid with contingency reserves. City staff said it is too early to give a savings estimate until it knows how many participate.